Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 26, 2010

Nightfire: At Nightfire, Halloween is 24/7! A new imprint dedicated to horror!

Duke University Press: Point of Reckoning: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University by Theodore D Segal

Scribner Book Company: Red Island House by Andrea Lee

Shadow Mountain: The Gentleman and the Thief by Sarah M Eden


President Obama Lights Up Prairie Lights Books

In a speech on health care delivered in Iowa City, Iowa, yesterday, President Obama cited "your own Prairie Lights bookstore downtown" as an example of a small business that will benefit from the new law. An hour later he visited the store and bought several books, endearing himself yet again to many book people.

In the speech, quoted by the New York Times, the president said Prairie Lights has been "offering coverage to their full-time employees for the last 20 years. Last year their premiums went up 35%, which made it a lot harder for them to offer the same coverage."

Now with the new law in place, he continued, "the folks at Prairie Lights" will have "the security of knowing that they'll qualify for a tax credit that covers up to 35% of their employees' health insurance. Starting today, small business owners can sit down at the end of the week, look at their expenses, and they can begin calculating how much money they're going to save. And maybe they can even use those savings to not only provide insurance but also create jobs. This health care tax credit is pro-jobs, it's pro-business, and it starts this year, and it's starting because of you."

At the bookstore, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette and a pool report quoted by the New York Times, the president went to the children's/YA section and bought Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson and The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell for his daughters; both books had been recommended, he said. He also bought a Star Wars book for press secretary Robert Gibbs, to give to his son.

Asked by a customer about whether he had a gift for his wife, Obama said, "Thanks for getting me in trouble."

At one point, Obama picked up copies of No Apology by Mitt Romney and Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove and said to the reporters on hand, "What do you think, guys?" 

Speaking of the visit, owner Jan Weissmiller (in photo here, helping Obama select a book) told the Gazette, "I was not expecting that. It all happened so fast." She had been on the phone, she said, when she was told to hang up because "someone special" was dropping in.

Prairie Lights buyer Paul Ingram called Obama "Mr. Charm," adding, "He's just such a lovely man. It was great that a lot of our best customers were in here then."

When he paid the $37.44 for the three books, the president said, "You have a wonderful bookstore. Hopefully it'll be a little easier to make sure everybody has health care."

Pamela Dorman Books: The Push by Ashley Audrain

Notes: New Senior V-P of Sales and Marketing at HMH

Laurie Brown has been promoted to senior v-p, sales and marketing, at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She was formerly senior v-p of sales.

At the same time, Bridget Marmion, senior v-p, director of marketing, is leaving the company.

Gary Gentel, president of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Trade & Reference Group, said that the move "will offer a streamlined approach to getting our books--in all formats--the universal attention we need to reach an ever changing retail and consumer landscape."

He added that Marmion "has been a valued manager, coach, mentor, and colleague to many of us and I thank her for her 11 years of service to HMH."


Some 10% of respondents to an online survey conducted by Toadstool Bookshops have e-readers and another 15% are thinking of buying e-readers, according to Bookselling This Week.

Toadstool, which has three stores in New Hampshire, received more than 400 responses to its 10-question survey. Among other findings: a majority of the stores' customers don't have an e-reader and don't plan to buy to one. The majority said they "really liked books" and visiting a bookstore.

Most respondents were unaware that e-books are available on Toadstool's IndieCommerce site, but many expressed an interest in buying e-books through their local bookstore. The respondents also said e-book prices and information about e-books were "two features they were most interested in."

Williams called the agency model for selling e-books, which is being adopted with many e-book titles via Apple, "the solution for bookstores in general."


Congratulations to Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich., which celebrates its 15th anniversary this Saturday with an open house and wine-and-cheese party, according to Bookselling This Week.

Owner Nicola Rooney was a chemical engineer by training and worked in that field for several decades, until the mid 1990s, when her company was bought and her job transferred to Germany. In 1995, Nicola Rooney bought a Little Professor franchise store that was for sale and changed its name. The store, she said, has been "profitable each year."


Book (testimonal) video of the day, by Lisa Tabari on the Tyra Banks Show for Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (Running Press).


A group of Somerville, Mass., citizens wants to bring a bookstore back to Davis Square two years after McIntyre & Moore Booksellers moved to Cambridge.

"We feel it's really a missing piece of the community," said Jay Neely, Davis Bookstore Project organizer. reported that "members of the group hope their enthusiasm will persuade an interested entrepreneur to take up the slack. They'd also be happy if an existing independent bookstore opened a branch in the square, but no chain stores. They want a store that sells both new and used books, with 'that Davis Square spirit of indie and involved,' Neely said.' "


A "portion" of publisher, author and Mysterious Bookshop owner Otto Penzler's personal library will be sold at auction May 8 at the Swann Auction Galleries in New York City. The Guardian reported that the "vintage trove of British spy novels" includes "the 1953 edition of Casino Royale, which has a guide price of $20,000 to $30,000, a rare first edition of Eric Ambler's 1938 novel Cause for Alarm, signed to Penzler, as well as first editions from Graham Greene, Dennis Wheatley (inscribed to a fan, 'this is really good') and John Le Carré."

"Because my bookshop was in Manhattan, most authors sooner or later found themselves visiting, where I distinguished myself as an enormous irritant by asking them to inscribe my books," Penzler said.


Steve Hockensmith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, talked with Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life blog about his bestselling prequel. He predicted the zombie and vampire literary frenzy is "not going to spread to mummies. It's not that somebody won't write a wonderful werewolf romance and have that go through the roof, but it's hard for me to imagine it turning into a phenomenon. But then again if you had said to me ten years ago that zombies were going to be huge, 'Buy zombie stock now!' or  'I have one word for you my friend, zombies,' I don’t think I would have seen it, so what do I know. But I do think that if you do look at vampires and zombies, it makes sense."


Larry Portzline's bookstore tourism concept is alive and well in southeastern Massachusetts, where Alan and Helene Korolenko are planning another bus trip to Greenwich Village in New York City "to explore bookstores and literary sites." Participants can visit bookstores with the Korolenkos or on their own; they can also follow a self-guided literary walk.

The Greenwich Village Booklovers Adventure will travel via bus from and back to New Bedford, Mass., on Saturday, April 17. The cost is $70. For more information, go to


The Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Association are holding a meeting Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, in Santa Fe, N.Mex., at the Inn of the Governors. Dorothy Massey of Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe is acting as host.

The program includes an ABA Forum and discussion of online website marketing; a panel on creating successful author events; a discussion of e-books by booksellers who are selling them; a luncheon featuring Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail (see review below!); a panel on social media and more.

MPIBA and the ABA are also sponsoring a meeting with similar program on Thursday and Friday, April 29 and 30, in San Antonio, Tex., at the Fairmont Hotel. The meeting is hosted by Claudia Sharp of the Twig bookstore, San Antonio.

For more information on the regional focus meetings, go to MPIBA's website.


GLOW: Hanover Square Press: The Jigsaw Man (Inspector Anjelica Henley Thriller) by Nadine Matheson

Image of the Day: Crime & Herring

Last week at the White Slab Palace in New York City, Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø kicked off the North American tour for The Devil's Star (Harper) at an event hosted by the Society, a global literary salon community. Appropriately, the Scandinavian bar served a meal of five kinds of herring with Swedish meatballs and special cocktails. Nesbø, whose father was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and left for Oslo with his family when he was 12 years old, spoke about his background, his novel and how his visit felt like coming home. From left: Society member Candice Sinclair; Nesbø (standing); Society director Annie Evans; and Society member Jennifer Nilsson-Weiskott.

Photo: Bao Nguyen

University of California Press: Beethoven, a Life (1st ed.) by Jan Caeyers, translated by Brent Annable

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Shonda and Curt Schilling

Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition: Shonda Schilling and Curt Schilling, authors of The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome (Morrow, $25.99, 9780061986833/0061986836).


Berkley Books: Dangerous Women by Hope Adams

Books & Authors

Awards: Oddest Title; Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Nominees

The winner of the 2009 Diagram Prize, going to the oddest book title of the year and sponsored by the Bookseller, goes to Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Dr. Daina Taimina. Close runners up were What Kind of Bean Is This Chihuahua? by Tara Jansen-Meyer and Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich by James A. Yannes.

The Guardian noted that the winning title is a serious one. Hyperbolic planes are difficult to visualize, and Dr. Taimina, a mathematician at Cornell, had the insight that crocheting creates such shapes.


Nominees for the 2010 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award, voted on by members of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society and honoring the best first novel in science fiction, fantasy or horror, are: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Dying Bites by D.D. Barant, Soulless by Gail Carriger and Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard.

The winner receive $1,000, a plaque and will be invited to Balticon, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction Convention, May 28–31.


Shelf Starter: Father Fiction

Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation by Donald Miller (Howard Books, $19.99, 9781439169162/1439169160, April 6, 2010)

Opening lines of books we want to read:

In the absence of a real father, I had a cast of characters that were at times hilarious, pitiful, perfect, kind and wise.

Here they are....

My first father was a black man on television who wore bright argyle sweaters. He lived in New York or Chicago, I can't remember which. He was incredibly intelligent and had a knockout wife. I'm talking about Bill Cosby. When I was kid, I wanted to be Theo Huxtable....

White people had interesting fathers, too, but nothing to make a sitcom about. When I was growing up my friend Tom had a father, and I learned from him that a real father doesn't have jazz singers over to perform in the living room before dinner.... Rather, real fathers, at least at Tom's house, clean guns while watching television, weed-eat the lawn with one hand while holding a beer in the other, and squeeze their wife's butt while she's cooking dinner. And because of Tom's father [and Bill Cosby], I came to believe a man was supposed to be around the house to arm and disarm weapons, make sexual advances on the matriarch, perform long and colorful ad-libs with the children about why they should clean their room, and above all, always face the camera, even if the entire family has to sit on one side of the table during dinner.--Selected by Marilyn Dahl

Book Brahmin: Stephen Fried

Stephen Fried is an investigative journalist and essayist and adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His first biography, Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia, inspired the film Gia and introduced the word "fashionista." He is also the author of The New Rabbi, Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs and Husbandry. A two-time winner of the National Magazine Award, Fried has written for Vanity Fair, GQ, Rolling Stone, Glamour and many other magazines. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, author Diane Ayres. His new book, Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West was published by Bantam this past Tuesday.

On your nightstand now:

Thelonius Monk: the Life and Times of an American Original
by Robin D.G. Kelley, Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee, Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama and a lot of crumpled-up receipts and other little bits of paper I should probably clean up.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Just So Stories.
(I still have a tape of my late father reading "The Elephant's Child" with all the voices.)

Your top five authors:

Gay Talese, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carl Hiaasen, Diane Ayres.

Book you've faked reading:

I don't fake reading books--although I have been known to do what my wife calls "gisting" books, where I buzz them incredibly quickly looking only for what I already think I know is there. It's something that magazine writers learn to do, and I'm not proud of it (but I guess it means that speed-reading course my parents made me take in high school paid off).

Book you're an evangelist for:

Other Girls by Diane Ayres (the first of my wife's excellent novels to be published).

Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't do that much, but when I do, it's usually books about basketball, fishing or, lately, obscure moments in American history.

Book that changed your life:

Ball Four
by Jim Bouton--considered more quotable and resonant than the Bible among my friends growing up in Harrisburg.

Favorite line from a book:

Kipling's description of the "great grey-green greasy Limpopo river all set about with fever trees."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert Heinlein, the first book I read even though nobody made me and the first book in which I got completely lost.
Favorite book trend:

Contemporary investigative journalists writing about the past in a new, more narratively ambitious way--a genre I've been referring to as "history buffed" while exploring it over the past few years for this new book.

Book Review

Book Review: Hellhound on His Trail

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin by Hampton Sides (Doubleday Books, $28.95 Hardcover, 9780385523929, April 2010)

On April 23, 1967, an inmate of the Missouri State Penitentiary at Jefferson City escaped; the prison was allegedly impossible to break out of unless, it appears, you are hidden in under loaves of bread being trucked beyond the walls. That inmate remained on the run through Mexico, Canada, Los Angeles, Atlanta and places in between under the alias Eric S. Galt for almost a year. Hampton Sides tracks his elusive trail, culminating in his arrival in Memphis, Tenn., as John Willard in early April 1968.

James Earl Ray had little in the way of accomplishments to his name as he approached the age of 39. During his year as a fugitive, Ray/Galt/Willard had aspired to be a pornographer, a bartender, a hypnotist--but what he had always been was a racist with M1 rifle training courtesy of the United States military.

Martin Luther King, Jr., on the other hand, had accomplished great things by the time he was 39 years old. As part of his mission to advance civil rights and true racial integration, he was in Memphis in early April 1968 to lead a nonviolent demonstration in support of striking sanitation workers. Sides argues convincingly that James Earl Ray had been stalking King and saw Memphis as a chance to zero in on his target. On April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m., Ray fired a rifle from the bathroom window of a rundown rooming house near King's motel; his aim, unfortunately, was true--King died and Ray entered history books as his assassin.

As he recounts the parallel stories of King's tireless campaign for justice and Ray's hateful drive to kill King, Sides takes us back to the era when J. Edgar Hoover headed the FBI. Charged with the investigation to hunt down King's assassin, the FBI did its job well despite Hoover's notorious hatred of King. Ramsey Clark, the U.S. Attorney General at the time, represented that as "the biggest investigation ever conducted for a single crime, in U.S. history."

Sides's description of the forensics, lucky breaks and cooperation among international law enforcement agencies that led to Ray's arrest 65 days after the assassination is riveting. The fugitive may not have skipped this time, but Sides admits there are many unanswered questions that went with Ray to his grave in 1998. (Was Ray's only motive his deep-seated racist hatred of King? Who supplied Ray with money during his year of roaming? As Coretta Scott King said, "There were many fingers on the rifle.") Underpinning this important book's revisit to a painful period in our history is the additional overwhelmingly sad unanswerable question: What would Martin Luther King, Jr. been able to accomplish in that same period between 1968 and 1998 if Ray's aim had been off?--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: A powerful and important recounting of one of the darkest events in our nation's history.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: When We Talk About Books

I recently discovered buried book treasure in the vaults of The Book Group, a dark comedy that ran on Britain's Channel 4 from 2002 to 2003, is a strange and compelling series about a Glasgow book group initially formed because Claire, a lonely American expat, thinks "it's a really good way to meet people, you know, who can... read."

The Book Group is funny and sad and often absurd. I've watched seven of the 12 episodes thus far, trying like hell to focus an objective, critical eye on the show. After all, I have a couple decades of bookseller experience leading, participating in and observing reading group behavior. Suspending disbelief should be impossible. Is there anything worse than watching a TV show about a topic you know too well? I'm sure doctors cringe at ER and cops wince at Law & Order.

But The Book Group has somehow cracked through my defenses. The unlikely band of readers (and non-readers) that Claire assembles includes Kenny, an injured climber and would-be writer who is "on, not in" his wheelchair; Rab, a gay football (I'll only translate that as soccer this once) groupie and virtual non-reader; Barney, a drug-addicted graduate student; as well as an international trio of footballers' wives: Janice from Scotland, Dirka from Sweden and Fist from Holland.

It's a set-up, I thought during the first episode. It can't work. Initially, everything about the show seems consciously designed for failure. This particular combination of people is beyond unlikely, and they can often be squirm-inducingly hard to sympathize or identify with. But just when I began to feel an air of superiority about something as simple as "identifying with a character," The Book Group called my bluff.

"Claire," Kenny cautions at one point, "Do you think you have to like a character to get something out of a story? Because I think it's a good thing if your author isn't trying to get you to be sympathetic to the main guy."

Bang! What book group isn't formed of an unlikely conglomeration of readers with differing backgrounds, sensibilities, tastes and obsessions? What book group isn't prone to venturing off topic when distractions like food or drink or sex intrude upon the conversation? So I stopped trying to sympathize or identify and simply went along for the ride.

The real gift of this offbeat and apparently long-forgotten series is that somehow, in the midst of all their self-absorption and misbehavior, the group does find a way to make the books matter. And often their meetings are not where this occurs.

A path that begins with their first stilted discussion about On the Road leads through The Alchemist, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Little Engine That Could (a surprisingly evocative choice) and The Diving Bell & the Butterfly. Tossed in for good measure is a fictional work of fiction, Dark Alley by Martin Logan, a bestselling thriller writer with whom Janice has a brief fling. When she chooses his book for the group, Martin agrees to attend but declines the pleasure of meeting anyone face to face.

"No, no, no. I can't sit and talk to a group of readers. No way," he protests, then points to a landing on the second floor of the house. "I'll be up there. I just want to listen."

Big mistake. What follows is a sendup of every author's fears about what their readers might be saying behind their back.

"I liked it," Kenny says of the book. "Nothing special, but it kept you turning the pages."
"Nothing special?" asks Janice. "What did you mean by that, Kenny?"
He digresses: "Did you make this cake, Janice?"

The conversation then turns to poppy seeds and "properly prepared food" while the author suffers in silence upstairs, emerging furiously from hiding only after a late-arriving Claire prefaces her withering analysis of Dark Alley with, "So, did anybody actually like the book?" Martin weakly concludes his self-defense by saying, "You've misunderstood everything."

Also among the more priceless scenes is one of the simplest. Rab, the non-reader, explains to a surprisingly rapt group of professional footballers precisely what happens at these mysterious book group gatherings. 
"It's brilliant," he says. "We get a book, right? And in the weeks leading up to the meeting, we read the book, right? And then we go to the meeting and we talk about the book." It's so bloody simple, but you really do have to be there.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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