Shelf Awareness for Thursday, August 26, 2010

Atheneum Books: Bulldozer's Christmas Dig by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

St. Martin's Press: The Christie Affair by Nina De Gramont

Soho Crime: My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Sam Bett

Candlewick Press: Hello, Little Fish!: A Mirror Book by Lucy Cousins

Merriam-Webster Kids: Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day: 366 Elevating Utterances to Stretch Your Cranium and Tickle Your Humerus by Merriam-Webster

Other Press: Lemon by Yeo-Sun Kwon, translated by Janet Hong

Ballantine Books: The Maid by Nita Prose


Hunger Games Trilogy: Questioning the Violence

I am an adult book buyer, but our children's buyer convinced me to read the three Suzanne Collins books. I have just finished Mockingjay. I admit they are compelling and one reads steadily to learn what happens next. They are even inventive and the characters are fascinating people, yet the more I read, the more uneasy I became until I could barely get through to the end of the third book. Why, I wonder, is no one (that I am aware of) talking about how violent these books are? It seems to me they go beyond the usual mayhem (that we've come to expect and accept in these kinds of thrillers as it were.) Now we have not only children killing children, we have electrocution, drowning, burning, stabbing, being injected by virulent venom and more torture than I can recall in any young adult novels I've ever read. There's collateral damage of innocent people (yes that happens in war) except some of it is by the righteous "good guys"--there's decapitation, and even sexual abuse that thank god is at least not described but what finally brought me down was the psychological abuse some characters sustain from which they never recover (mostly created by extreme sadistic torture).

I read mysteries all the time and there's a kind of dissociation we do with "shoot-em-ups" or the modern day equivalent to watch our heroes vanquish evil and all that where we put up with violence. I would even make a case that there's a healthy aspect to relieving violent urges through fiction. But with the Hunger Games, I felt it went so far into "acceptable" or condoned levels of violence and torture that I wonder if I had children how I'd feel about them reading these and at what age.
I suppose some readers, maybe many, will be exhilarated in the end that "whew" the world was saved, but what are we saying here about what we (they) had to do to get there? I listen to young people's booksellers all the time vet books as to their appropriateness around sexual content--is anyone worried about the murderous content also? Just wondering.

--Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif.


House of Anansi Press: Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling by Esi Edugyan


From Poison Pills to Poison Pens: B&N vs. Burkle

In a mailing yesterday to shareholders urging proxy votes in favor of the company slate that includes chairman Len Riggio and against insurgent shareholder Ron Burkle's proposal to allow his Yucaipa Companies to buy up to 30% of the company, Barnes & Noble pulled no punches. The letter's first words read: "PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT IN BARNES & NOBLE!"

The company argued that Burkle is "trying to take control of Barnes & Noble without paying you the premium you deserve for your shares" and that he has a history of teaming up with Aletheia, "another Los Angeles-area investment firm," to gain control of companies, including Whole Foods, Wild Oats and A&P. Aletheia and Yucaipa own an estimated 35% of B&N and could buy a controlling interest if the proxy question passes.

In 2009, the company adopted a poison-pill plan aimed at Burkle. But, the letter continued, "Burkle didn't like the Shareholder Rights Plan and he sued the Company earlier this year. But guess what? He LOST. A court of law dismissed every single one of Burkle's numerous claims." The letter details some of those points.

B&N then described itself as "in the middle of one of the most exciting transformations in the history of bookselling. Management is working hard to execute a digital strategy to spur growth in the rapidly expanding eBook market and build long-term value. Less than a year into this strategy, Barnes & Noble has leveraged its iconic brand to quickly establish itself as a major player in e-commerce and digital content."


B&N noted that a special committee of four independent board members, "assisted by top independent financial and legal advisors," is reviewing strategic alternatives, including a potential sale. In response to Burkle's criticism that the board members aren't independent from the Riggios, B&N noted that in his opinion in the Burkle lawsuit, the judge said that the special committee "does not include any director this decision has found to be non-independent."

While praising the company slate, the letter criticized the three members of Burkle's slate as "neither independent nor qualified," noting among other things:

Burkle "was part of the Yahoo! Board that rejected an acquisition proposal from Microsoft at $33 per share--possibly the biggest MISSED OPPORTUNITY in the history of technology M&A."

"Stephen Bollenbach served on the Board of Time Warner that approved the merger with AOL--possibly the WORST M&A transaction in history in terms of value destruction."

"Michael McQuary presided over a stock price decline of nearly 70% during his 2-1/2 year tenure as President of Earthlink. The company characterized his departure as a resignation, but McQuary later publicly admitted that he was 'pushed out.' "



GLOW: Clarion Books: The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman

Notes: New Kindle a Bestseller; Sharper Image's E-Reader

Amazon is calling its latest e-reader models the fastest-selling ever. More new generation Kindles and Kindle 3Gs were ordered during the first four weeks of availability than in a comparable time period following any other Kindle launch, the company said. Amazon also noted that more of the new e-readers were ordered on and combined than any other product.

As usual, no specific sales numbers were reported, which inspired numerous snarky headlines, including's "Amazon issues new data-free press release on Kindle sales" and's "New Kindle is here, selling like an unspecified number of hotcakes."

In the New York Times, David Pogue reviewed the Kindle 3, noting that "it’s a little silly to compare the Kindle with the iPad, a full-blown computer with infinitely greater powers. Although it’s worth pointing out, just in case you were indeed considering the iPad primarily for its e-book features, that the Kindle’s catalog of 630,000 current books is 10 times the size of Apple’s. No, the Kindle’s real competition is the gaggle of extremely similar, rival e-book readers, all of which use the same E Ink screen technology. "

Pogue's final verdict: "Really, though, what makes the Kindle so successful isn’t what Amazon added to it; it’s what Amazon subtracted: size, weight and price. Nook’s two-screen setup makes it fussy and complicated. Sony’s additional screen layers make the E Ink less sharp. In the meantime, certain facts are unassailable: that the new Kindle offers the best E Ink screen, the fastest page turns, the smallest, lightest, thinnest body and the lowest price tag of any e-reader. It’s also the most refined and comfortable."


The Sharper Image has joined the e-reader parade with its full-color Literati, which will ship nationwide in October to more than 7,000 retail stores, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, JC Penney, Kohl's and Macy's. The company said the Literati's retail price will be $159 "or less through rebates, special offers and promos."

"The majority of e-readers available today are either too expensive with too many features, or the manufacturer has slashed key functionality and overall device quality to lower the price," said Kirk McLean, co-founder of MerchSource, which designed and distributes the Literati under trademark license from the Sharper Image. "We designed the Literati from the inside out--starting with the bookstore--to give booklovers exactly what they wanted: a simple, dedicated device that lets them get right to the book." The Literati's bookstore will feature Kobo's e-book software.


"Are E-Books Worth the Money?" asked the Wall Street Journal in an article that offered "six money tips for pennywise book lovers" considering the purchase of an e-reader:

  1. Casual readers probably shouldn't bother.
  2. The books aren't as cheap as they should be.
  3. Savvy readers read the classics anyway.
  4. Be aware of the potential costs of buying a Kindle.
  5. Be aware of the costs of the rivals.
  6. And if you're thinking of buying a book reader--wait!

"In a rational market," the Journal predicted, "we should see big price cuts this fall, especially as the last of the old models go on sale. Of course, that's in a rational market. Let me know if you ever find one."


Bradley's Book Outlet, Pittsburgh, Pa., will open a bookstore at the Indiana Mall in Indiana, Pa. this fall, taking over a location formerly occupied by a Borders Express that closed last January, the Gazette reported, adding that Bradley's "already has opened three new western Pennsylvania outlets in Washington, Uniontown and West Mifflin this year. The Indiana outlet will bring the number to eight, doubling its retail operation. The other stores are in Pittsburgh."

Eve Beck, a regional manager for Bradley's, said the store may begin operations during the second or third week of September, with an offical opening planned for October 15.

Sherry Renosky, the mall's corporate marketing director, said, "We are very excited to bring a bookstore back to the Indiana market. We have had many customers requesting a bookstore, and we are happy we were able to fill the spot so quickly,''


During the 18th century, the "phrase 'reading revolution' was probably coined by German historian Rolf Engelsing," the Atlantic observed in its exploration of "10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books."


A "book" by any other name. Facebook has filed suit against, an online community for teachers that has not officially launched yet, for using the word "book" in its name, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"We've been sitting here scratching our heads for the last couple of days," said Greg Shrader, Teachbook's managing director. "We're trying to understand how Facebook, a multibillion-dollar company, feels this small enterprise in Chicago is any type of threat."

In a statement, Facebook said, "It's not that they are using 'book'--we have no complaint against Kelley Blue Book or others. However, there is already a well-known online network of people with 'book' in the brand name."


In a tribute to the visual appeal of empty space, the Inspiration Blog featured more than 40 "stunning minimalistic book covers" where the "style is often elegant, and uses icon design and simple photography and illustration on a regular basis."


Ten "underrated Canadian authors" were showcased in the National Post's Afterword blog, which said that "it’s important to bear in mind that there is a huge wealth of worthwhile literature being written in this country. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it flies under the radar due to limited marketing budgets, the increasingly poisonous blockbuster mentality that is infecting publishing, and an overwhelming number of books being published."

These notable authors, who "make reading a joy, not a chore, which is something sorely lacking from much of our fiction these days," are Bill Gaston, Clark Blaise, Caroline Adderson, Ray Smith, Lynn Coady, Douglas Glover, Russell Smith, Eric Ormsby, Diane Schoemperlen and Sharon English


Flavorwire "got hungry just looking at these cakes inspired by books."


Book trailer of the day: Fury: A Memoir by Koren Zailckas (Viking), which the author made with her husband.


Effective January 1 with the series launch, SmarterComics, the new business, self-help and motivational graphic novel series from Writers of the Round Table, will be distributed in the U.S. and to some international markets by National Book Network. NBN will also distribute other Writers of the Round Table Press books.

The first books include How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins, Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life by Larry Winget and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association: We're throwing a bookselling party and you're invited!

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Somewhere Inside

Tomorrow on a repeat of Oprah: Laura Ling and Lisa Ling, authors of Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home (Morrow, $26.99, 9780062000675/0062000675).


Berkley Books: 30 Things I Love about Myself by Radhika Sanghani

This Weekend on Book TV: More Money than God

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, August 28

9 a.m. At an event hosted by BookPeople bookstore, Austin, Tex., James Haley, author of Wolf: The Lives of Jack London (Basic Books, $29.95, 9780465004782/0465004784), recalls the author's early years as a child of poverty and his working life, as well as his interest in social justice and frustration in not being able to spur his readership to support his many causes. (Re-airs Saturday at 11 p.m. and Monday at 4 a.m.)

11 a.m. Terence Jeffrey, author of Control Freaks: 7 Ways Liberals Plan to Ruin Your Life (Regnery Press, $27.95, 9781596985971/1596985976), presents his arguments against the Obama administration. (Re-airs Sunday at 4:15 a.m. and 8:15 p.m.)

6 p.m. Encore Booknotes. In a segment that first aired in 1995, Lynn Sherr, author of Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words (Times Books, $23, 9780812927184/0812927184), discussed her collection of speeches, letters, and quotes by the women's rights advocate.

8:15 p.m. Former Republican majority leader Dick Armey, author of Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto (Morrow, $19.99, 9780062015877/0062015877), reflects on his involvement in the tea party movement.         

9 p.m. From this year's PEN World Voices Festival, Ariel Dorfman talks about his life and work with Gabriel Sanders.

10 p.m. After Words. Gillian Tett interviews Sebastian Mallaby, author of More Money than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (Penguin, $29.95, 9781594202551/1594202559). Mallaby discusses what he calls the It Boys of 21st century capitalism. (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

Sunday, August 29

12:15 a.m. Dave Kindred, author of Morning Miracle--Inside the Washington Post: A Great Newspaper Frights for Its Life (Doubleday, $26.95, 9780385523561/0385523564), profiles the current state of the newspaper industry in general and the day-to-day workings of the Post specifically. (Re-airs Sunday at 9 a.m.)


Artemesia Publishing, LLC: The Last Professional by Ed Davis, illustrated by Colin Elgie

Multimedia Economy Draws Fresh Blood from Vampires

As they move stealthily across the linked fictional landscapes of books, movies and television, a host of "charming, deadly immortals" are "spilling as much green as red--about $7 billion since the Twilight film franchise bowed less than two years ago," according to the Hollywood Reporter.  

"By starting with one simple mythological creature that's been part of our literary universe for centuries, you can create a story that has it all: romance, horror, action, special effects, sex, epic love, wish fulfillment, romantic leading men, delicious bad-boy villains, female badasses, damsels in distress, death, monsters and, ultimately, the perfectly flawed hero who would give it all up if it meant they wouldn't have to spend eternity alone," said Julie Plec, writer and executive producer of the CW series The Vampire Diaries, based on L.J. Smith's novels. "It doesn't get more universal than that."

The book world "has gone bonkers with bloodsuckers since Meyer published Twilight in 2005," THR reported, adding that vampire series by Meyer, Smith and Charlaine Harris are "just the tip of the fang; there are scores of vampire titles on the shelves at the moment, and more are coming."

Vampire books "are just growing," according to one agent. "There is no one area in which it's stagnating. It goes from fiction to (young adult) fiction to genre fiction--they are king."

"Apparently, the only thing more ravenous than a hungry vampire is his audience," THR wrote.


Sterling: Dracula: Deluxe Edition by Bram Stoker, illustrated by Edward Gorey

Movies: Trouble on Location for Breaking Dawn

Plans to shoot scenes for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn in Rio de Janiero may have to be altered "after a deadly shoot out there last weekend between police and a gang who took hostages in an upmarket tourist hotel," AFP reported.

Rio's state officials were in talks with Summit Entertainment, trying to convince them to proceed as planned despite Saturday's bloodbath during which drug gang members trying to escape the police took 35 people hostage at the Intercontinental Hotel. AFP reported that the incident ended when, after "a blazing firefight that killed one person and wounded six others, the gang surrendered."


Books & Authors

Shelf Starter: The Waters Rising

The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper (Eos Books, $26.99, 9780061958878/0061958875, August 31, 2010)

Opening lines of a book we want to read:


The Woman Upstairs

"If you look over your left shoulder," said the horse, "you can see the towers of King Gahl's castle on the highlands."

The wagon driver replied, speaking very softly, "Blue, if you look over your right shoulder, across the water, you might catch a glimpse of a dozen or so of Hulix's archers with arrows nocked."

"Ahhhh," murmured the horse, plodding resolutely forward. "That would be Hulix, Duke of Kamfels, son of Queen Mirami."

Abasio, the driver, resolutely keeping his eyes forward, yawned and stretched, giving no indication he had seen the archers. Among Abasio's former friends and companions it was generally supposed that archers who had taken the trouble to paint their hands and faces to match their leafy surroundings were less likely to shoot a passerby if the passerby didn't notice them. Being noticed could be considered an insult. "He is indeed the son of Queen Mirami," Abasio yawned again, loosening his jaw, which had been tightly clenched. "In order to allay suspicion, I am about to sing something pastoral and suggestive of bucolic innocence."

"Something half-witted and full of tra-la-las," sneered the horse, sotto voce, "and hey-nonny-nonnies."

"Very probably," said Abasio, clearing his throat. --Selected by Marilyn Dahl



Book Brahmin: Kevin Guilfoile

Kevin Guilfoile has written for McSweeney's, Salon, the Morning News and the New Republic. The Thousand (Knopf, August 24, 2010) is his second novel; his first, Cast of Shadows, has been translated into more than 15 languages. He lives in Chicago with his wife and children.


On your nightstand now:

The Passage by Justin Cronin; Get Capone by Jonathan Eig; Columbine by Dave Cullen.


Favorite book when you were a child:

Man, so many, of course. The first books I remember being absolutely transported by are probably The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, and Bob Fulton's Amazing Soda Pop Stretcher by Jerome Beatty, Jr. It seems like there was a year when I just read and reread Ray Bradbury. No doubt I was reading other stuff, too, but Bradbury is all I remember.


Your top five authors:

I have probably been asked this question a hundred times and I doubt I've ever given the same answer twice. The ones you get today are Walker Percy, Bradbury, Henning Mankell, T.C. Boyle, Stephen White.


Book you've faked reading:

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I had to read it for a class in college and just couldn't get past the first 30 pages or so. The drudgery of it left such a mark that 20-plus years later I feel like I'm still reading it.


Book you're an evangelist for:

Sharp Objects and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.


Book you've bought for the cover:

I didn't buy it for the cover, but if I hadn't heard of it and only happened upon it in the store, I would have bought Fever Chart by Bill Cotter just by looking at it.


Book that changed your life:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. As a child, that book created a quantum leap in my understanding of what a novel could do. It opened a whole new window into the relationship between reader and writer for me. That was one of the first times I thought to myself, "I want to do this someday. I want to make a reader feel the way I'm feeling right now."


Favorite line from a book:

Once again, it depends on what day you ask. How about, "The mentality of Las Vegas is so grossly atavistic that a really massive crime often slips by unrecognized."--Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I got around to Lonesome Dove only a few years ago, and it just floored me. I think adult reading is all about trying to recapture the kind of magical experience you had when you discovered reading as a kid (L'Engle, Bradbury, Tolkien, for me) and it happens so rarely. But it happened to me with McMurtry. What an amazing work of art.


Book Review

Book Review: The Hilliker Curse

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy (Knopf Publishing Group, $24.95 Hardcover, 9780307593504, September 2010)

Early in this fascinating and painful memoir, James Ellroy describes an event that presages the next 40 or so years of his life in tone and encapsulates both the mood and language of the rest of the book:

"Booze blackout˜ age 23. I was a fit 160. The woman weighed three bills easy. I loooved voluptuousness. My standards were permissive. These were curves I could not condone. She was the fourth. Keeping track was easy then.... I was months into a run of sobbing fits out of pure sex hunger/angst."

It is almost impossible to read on, and yet it is impossible not to. Readers familiar with Ellroy, especially the many fans of his previous memoir, the brilliant My Dark Places, will recognize and appreciate the machine-gun prose, Los Angeles chiaroscuro and tortured psyche that Ellroy has made his own. The story (some of which is also familiar) is simple; at 10 years old, Ellroy was asked by his drunken mother, Jean Hilliker, whether he wanted to live with her or his father. When Ellroy chose the latter, his mother attacked him. He cursed her, wished her dead, and three months later she was murdered, creating within him an often toxic mix of guilt, rage, grief and longing that drove him, almost destroyed him, and would never leave him. This event and its impact have fueled Ellroy's creativity to this day, but it has also led him into addiction, breakdown and to seek atonement in women with the kind of relentlessness that can only end in disaster.

Those disasters are given florid detail here as Ellroy traces one obsessive relationship after another, many of which were built on and distorted by pure fantasy (stoked by years of actual peeping), memories of his mother and addictions to various substances. Given the extent of Ellroy's admitted compulsions and fixations, it is no surprise to learn that even the most stalwart of the strong women he loves, including his grand passion, ex-wife Helen Knode, eventually leave. The competition--Jean Hilliker--is just too fierce. However, despite all the crash-and-burn relationships, two divorces, several stints in rehab and what he describes as a mental crack-up, Ellroy remains a romantic optimist.

At 60 years old, he met Erika Schnickel (to whom this book is dedicated) and love flowered for him again. And this time, he insists, he has met Her. Still, we must consider the source, which Ellroy himself offers us when he describes Erika's early reaction to him: "I was nervy and pervy. My ego staggered her. But she still felt compelled."

The reader will feel the same.--Debra Ginsberg

Shelf Talker: A searing and difficult but utterly compelling and often heartbreaking memoir of love and obsession from noir master James Ellroy.


The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Titles in Chicagoland Last Week

The following were the bestselling books at independent bookstores in and near Chicago during the week ended Sunday, August 22:

Hardcover Fiction

1. Star Island by Carl Hiaasen
2. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
3. Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith
4. I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson
5. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Hardcover Nonfiction

1. The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry
2. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
3. Women Food and God by Geneen Roth
4. Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life by Thomas Geoghegan
5. Get Capone by Jonathan Eig

Paperback Fiction

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
2. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
3. Tale of the Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb
4. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
5. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Paperback Nonfiction

1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
2. Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer
3. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
4. I Drink for a Reason by David Cross
5. Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott


1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
3. The Adventures of Ook and Gluk by Dav Pilkey
4. My Mommy Hung the Moon for Me by Jamie Lee Curtis
5. Artemis Fowl 7: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

Reporting bookstores: Anderson's, Naperville and Downers Grove; Read Between the Lynes, Woodstock; the Book Table, Oak Park; the Book Cellar, Lincoln Square; Lake Forest Books, Lake Forest; the Bookstall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka; and 57th St. Books; Seminary Co-op; Women and Children First, Chicago.

[Many thanks to the booksellers and Carl Lennertz!]



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