Shelf Awareness for Thursday, December 9, 2010

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens

Forge: Mr Katō Plays Family by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated by Caroline Froh

Ballantine Books: The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

Island Press: The Jewel Box: How Moths Illuminate Nature's Hidden Rules by Tim Blackburn

Berkley Books: Business or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Berkley Books: The First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Texas Bookman Presents Texas Remainder Expo

Minotaur Books: Deadlock: A Thriller (Dez Limerick Novel #2) by James Byrne


Laura Ayrey New MPIBA Executive Director

Laura Ayrey has been named executive director of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association, effective December 20. She succeeds Lisa Knudsen, who is working with Ayrey to facilitate the transition by early January.

Ayrey was most recently the director of marketing and trade sales for Gibbs Smith. The MPIBA board noted that she "brings extensive experience in marketing and communications as well as a commitment to independent bookselling. We were unanimous in our decision and are incredibly excited about the combination of industry knowledge and hands-on technical skills that Laura brings to this position. Laura's energy and enthusiasm are infectious. We are all truly looking forward to working with her as she takes on this important role as our greatest advocate."

In a letter to members, Ayrey wrote: "It is not only my new responsibility but my personal goal to properly represent the face of the independent bookseller and assist in the challenges that face us, be that dealing with the loss of revenue due to e-readers, chains and online sales as well as a decline in sales representatives and community support. I am well aware of the current struggles that we face but I also see great opportunity in them as well. I plan to focus my energy into increasing social media campaigns, developing stronger relationships with our publishing partners, creating merchandising programs using industry data to increase sales and strengthening brand awareness for MPIBA. And that's just the beginning!"


William Morrow & Company: Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs

Notes: BEA Show to Stay in Big Apple; The Domino Project

BookExpo America will remain in New York City for the foreseeable future, according to BEA show director Steve Rosato, who wrote on the BEAN blog that although Chicago has been explored as an alternative, "with the possible exception of 2016, it appears we will be able to lock up dates at Javits [Center] either the week prior to or the week after Memorial Day through 2017, which has historically worked for BEA. All of our key strategy points and measurable performance indexes make New York the ideal location for BEA. That includes proximity for buying groups, ease for international participation and media."

BEA will remain a mid-week--Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday--event. One change: next year all Book & Author events will be breakfasts. "We opted not to add back an author lunch, feeling that the condensed schedule last year elevated the already lofty quality of the Book & Author events. Also, occupying booksellers' time for lunch is taking opportunities away from publishers; which we want to avoid," Rosato noted.


Early next year, bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin will launch the Domino Project with an initial list of six titles, using Amazon's "Powered by Amazon" publishing program. Godin will serve as the lead writer, creative director and instigator for a series of "Idea Manifestos" under his new imprint, which will include books by other authors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

On his blog, Godin observed: "The notion of the paper book as merely a package for information is slowly becoming obsolete. There must be other reasons on offer, or smart people will go digital, or read something free. The book is still an ideal tool for the hand-to-hand spreading of important ideas, though. The point of the book is to be spread, to act as a manifesto, to get in sync with others, to give and to get and to hand around. Our goal is to offer ideas that people need and want to spread, to enjoy and to hold and to own, and to change conversations."

He also noted that the Domino Project "is designed to (at least by way of example) remap" many of the traditional foundations of publishing due to several factors:

There is no middleman.
The reader is tightly connected with the publisher and the author.
Pricing can vary based on volume, on timing, on format.
Digital goods and manifestos in book form make it easier to spread complex ideas.


Jeff Bezos was profiled by Marketwatch as one of this year's finalists for CEO of the Year: "For 15 years, the founder and chief executive of has made a surprisingly lucrative career of bewildering employees, investors and customers. And despite occasional griping, those constituencies have chosen to reward Bezos with a high degree of loyalty that has transformed a company once derided as Amazon-dot-bomb into what many consider one of the best-run companies in America.... The secret--at least the one that Bezos has outlined on several occasions--lies in a willingness to make big bets and stick to them, even when conventional wisdom fails to foresee a payoff. Of course, it helps greatly when they are the right bets."

Apparently he also works well with some governmental authorities (see following item).


Amazon plans to build a distribution center in Cayce, S.C., that will have 1,250 full-time employees, WIS-TV reported, noting that "county officials and some of the state's top governmental leaders met in Lexington Tuesday evening to approve incentives that included tax breaks and donating 90 acres of land near Interstates 77 and 26."

"There was a combination of factors [behind Amazon's decision]," said Amazon executive Frederick Kiga. "One is the proximity to markets, the other is the availability of workforce, and thirdly is a cooperation of state and local officials to get things done.... We hope to wrap this up and be in construction by early next year, if not this year." The warehouse is expected to open before Christmas 2011.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation updated its E-Book Buyer's Guide to E-Book Privacy--"which summarizes and comments on the privacy-related policies of several e-readers"--by adding the iPad as well as "the software used by many libraries and devices for e-book access, made by Adobe called Adobe Content Server."


"If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable. Together, it turns out, they are a perfect couple," the New York Times wrote in its exploration of "the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market."

Sarah Wendell, blogger and co-author (with Candy Tan) of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels, is a dedicated reader of romance e-books, which disguise "the mullets and the man chests" of the covers. "They are not always something that you are comfortable holding in your hand in public," she said.


Yesterday morning,  Jason Ashlock, founder of Movable Type Literary Group, invited readers of his blog "to share why you read. Log on to Twitter, toss down the hash tag #whyIread, and share what continues to draw you to books. We all have our reasons, and we'd love to hear yours.

I'll start. Here’s #whyIread:

#WhyIread Novels open up a space for characters to transform; by witnessing that transformation, I am able to change, too."

By mid-afternoon, the hashtag had clearly struck a chord with book-loving Twitterers. The meme become a national trending topic on Twitter, with more than 16,000 responses.


Czech writer and translator Heda Margolius Kovaly, whose memoir Under a Cruel Star "became a classic account of life under totalitarianism," died last Sunday, the New York Times reported. She was 91.


Salt Lake City Police said that Sherry Black, the co-owner of B&W Collector Books who was fatally stabbed in her shop last week (Shelf Awareness, December 3, 2010), "unknowingly purchased 14 rare stolen LDS books from a gang member, who had a history of making violent threats. In February of 2009, 20-year-old Lorin Nielsen was arrested and charged with stealing books from his father, a polygamous church president," according to KSL-TV.

The Deseret News reported that Nielsen, who had pleaded guilty to the theft in April 2009 and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, "was booked into Salt Lake County Jail on Monday for a violation of his probation in the theft case. Detectives, however, would not say whether he is being investigated in connection with the homicide."


UNC-TV profiled Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, N.C., where as manager Linda Barrett Knopp said, "coffee is almost as important as the book selection." Knopp also easily passed a pop quiz on categories in which certain titles are shelved.


On Black Friday, the aptly named Book Store opened in downtown Loganville, Ga., the Tribune reported. "One of the main reasons we opened in Loganville is because the owner herself is a Loganville resident and wanted a location closer to home," said Seth Duckett, the bookshop's manager. He is the grandson of owner Pam DeHetre, who also manages a sister bookstore in Snellville and wanted "to be able to capitalize on some of the events that are held in Loganville and to make sure the residents had a bookstore in the area."


The generation gap: books and music category. From Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald: "Overheard at the bookstore... and passed on to me, so I thought I'd pass it on to you because it's both movie-related and funny: Yesterday, at my neighborhood bookstore, two college-age young men paused before a display of Life, Keith Richards' new autobiography. 'Dude!' said one to the other. 'It's that guy who was Johnny Depp's dad in Pirates of the Caribbean!' "


Anne Holt, a mystery author who "began her career in the Oslo police department before founding her own law firm," selected her top 10 fictional female detectives for the Guardian.


Dave Eggers, Laura Lippman, Tao Lin and 15 other authors chose their favorite books of 2010 for Salon.


Richard Harvell featured Three Books to Rekindle Your Sense of Wonder for NPR. His choices were The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind and Candide, Or Optimism by Francois Voltaire.


Bookcase of the day: Singapore furniture retailer Munkii's The Vintage offers the look of "a classic bookcase in a beautiful white box," reported.


Flavorwire showcased 5 Forgotten Literary Vampires, noting that "there have actually been vampire lit cults for years--and, yes, we mean farther back than Interview with the Vampire. Long before Bram Stoker created his iconic Count Dracula, this supernatural creature had transitioned from rural folklore to the printed page with great success in 19th-century pop culture."


Kristine Macrides has been promoted to director of marketing and sales development in the Avon/Morrow division at HarperCollins, a new and expanded role. She has worked at the company for nine years.

William Morrow & Company: A Death in Denmark: The First Gabriel Præst Novel by Amulya Malladi

AAP Sales: E-Books 8.7% of Trade Print Sales for Year to Date

Net book sales in October fell 0.9% to $721 million as reported by 88 publishers to the Association of American Publishers. For the year to date, book sales have risen 3.4% to $9.1 billion.

E-book sales, which rose 112.4% to $40.7 million in October, represent about 8.7% of trade print sales for the year to date. Last year, e-books represented 3.3% of trade print and in 2007 they account for just 0.6% of such sales.

Sales by category in October:





 $40.7 million


Downloaded audiobooks

$6.3 million


Children's/YA hardcover

$100 million


Higher education

-$22.5 million





Adult mass market

$60.2 million


Children's/YA paperback

$50.9 million


Religious books

$57.5 million


Professional books

$44.8 million


Adult hardcover

$242.9 million


K-12 el-hi

$154.3 million


Adult paperback

$115 million


Univ. press paperback

$3 million


Univ. press hardcover

$4.4 million


Physical audiobook

$14.7 million





AuthorBuzz for the Week of 02.06.23

Holiday Hum: Skaters, Bakers & Rockers at Dolly's Bookstore

It's a December to remember at Dolly's Bookstore in Park City, Utah. The holiday shopping season traditionally kicks into high gear the week before Christmas as vacationers descend on the popular ski town, but there was plenty of excitement this past weekend when Apolo Ohno, the author of Zero Regrets: Be Greater than Yesterday, glided into town for what turned out to be one of the store's biggest signings ever.

Dolly's Bookstore staff with Apolo Ohno, including manager Sue Fassett standing behind the little girl.

The speed skater and Olympic champ was one of more than 20 authors making an appearance at Dolly's this month. Other headliners are former FBI agent Henry Foreman, author of the memoir Swimming with Sharks, and Gerald Elias, who turns out mysteries (Danse Macabre and Devil's Trill) when he's not playing the violin or acting as associate concertmaster of the Utah Symphony.

Fourteen area writers will be on hand December 21 when the store hosts its second Big Holiday Author Event. "Last year's event was so successful we decided to do it again," said store manager Sue Fassett. "It's a fun way to celebrate local authors." Shoppers can purchase and have signed copies of cookbooks, children's stories, adventure narratives and more, among them Jennifer Jordan's The Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2 and Letty Halloran Flatt's Chocolate Snowball: and Other Fabulous Pastries from Deer Valley Bakery.

This year for holiday gifting Fassett stocked up on coffee-table books, something customers aren't as likely to be reading on electronic devices. One of her favorites is Horse by photographer and equestrian Kelly Klein. Books with a regional slant are also popular selections, such as Canyon Wilderness of the Southwest by Jon Ortner and The Art of Maynard Dixon by Donald J. Hagerty.

Other top sellers are rocker Keith Richards's bio Life ("an interesting gift for men," noted Fassett), Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and an illustrated edition of The Night Before Christmas with a musical and narrative CD performed by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Late-night shoppers can stop by Dolly's until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The bookstore adjoins a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop via a connecting door (both businesses have the same owner). The confectionary often draws in customers strolling along Main Street after dinner, and once they satisfy their sweet tooth they head over to Dolly's to browse the shelves. "It's the ideal combination," said Fassett.

Staffers at Dolly's have a thoughtful present for parents who might be feeling frazzled this time of year. They'll "amuse the kiddos" during select story time sessions so that moms and dads can do their holiday shopping at the store.--Shannon McKenna Schmidt


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Killing Me by Michelle Gagnon

Media and Movies

Media Heat: The Mommy Diet

Tomorrow on the Ellen Degeneres Show: Alison Sweeney, author of The Mommy Diet (Gallery, $24, 9781439180945/1439180946).


Tomorrow on the O'Reilly Factor: Walid Phares, author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (Threshold Editions, $26, 9781439178379/1439178372).


Texas Bookman Presents Texas Remainder Expo

This Weekend on Book TV: The Kennedy Detail

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, December 11

8 a.m. Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Of Its Food (and what we can do about it) (Da Capo Lifelong Books, $26, 9780738213644/0738213640), explores why most food becomes refuse. (Re-airs Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 2 a.m.)

12 p.m. Paul Kengor talks about his book Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, $29.95, 9781935191759/1935191756). (Re-airs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 a.m.)

1:15 p.m. Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee discusses her book A Few Good Women: America's Military Women From World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Knopf, $32.50, 9781400044344/1400044340). (Re-airs Saturday, December 18, at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 19, at 4 a.m.)

2 p.m. Robert Nelson, author of The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America (Pennsylvania State University Press, $27.55, 9780271035819/0271035811), contends that environmentalism and economics are America's secular religions. (Re-airs Sunday at 5:30 p.m.)

9 p.m. Rick Perry, author of Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington (Little, Brown, $21.99, 9780316132954/0316132950), argues against national government intervention in issues that might be solved by states. (Re-airs Sunday at 3 a.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.)

10 p.m. After Words. Dahlia Lithwick interviews Noah Feldman, author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices (Twelve, $30, 9780446580571/0446580570). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m., Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m., and Sunday, December 19, at 12 p.m.)

Sunday, December 12

8 a.m. Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin, co-authors of The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence (Gallery, $28, 9781439192962/1439192960), discuss Blaine's experience as one of the agents on the detail when the president was assassinated. (Re-airs Monday at 2 a.m., Saturday, December 18, at 2 p.m., Friday, December 31, at 9 a.m. and Saturday, January 1, at 7 p.m.)

11 a.m. C-SPAN will air the memorial held in October for the late Carla Cohen of Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Sunday at 7 p.m. and Monday at 1 a.m.)

8 p.m. Harlow Unger discusses his book Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation (Da Capo, $26, 9780306818868/0306818868). (Re-airs Sunday at 11 p.m. and Monday at 5 a.m.)


Sourcebooks Young Readers: Global: One Fragile World. an Epic Fight for Survival. by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

The Hobbit Update: Cate Blanchett Returns as Galadriel

Cate Blanchett has been cast to play Galadriel in Peter Jackson's film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. reported that Jackson "has also set Ken Stott (Charlie Wilson's War) to play Dwarf Lord Balin, Sylvester McCoy (Dr. Who) to play the wizard Radagast the Brown, and Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt (Day and Night) to play shape-shifter Beorn. Ryan Gage (Outlaw) will play Drogo Baggins and Jed Brophy (who appeared in the original The Lord of the Rings) will play the dwarf Nori, and William Kircher will play the dwarf Bifur."

"Cate if one of my favorite actors to work with and I couldn't be more thrilled to have her reprise the role she so beautifully brought to life in the earlier films," said Jackson.


Books & Authors

Our Top Ten Lists, Part II

More Top 10 lists from Shelf Awareness folk...  (see here for more).

Top Ten Books of 2010: Harvey Freedenberg, reviewer

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). While it's risky to predict how the winds of literary fashion may blow someday, Franzen's novel has all the earmarks of a work of enduring merit and significance. Its deep, compelling portrayal of our uneasy times is matched by the acuity of Franzen's insight into the souls of his troubled creations.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (The Dial Press). International journalist Rachman supplies a satiric look at the newspaper business and much more in his sly novel in stories about the travails of the staff struggling to keep a small English-language paper afloat in Rome while wrestling with their messy personal lives.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (Scribner). Traversing settings from South Africa to Wyoming to Lithuania to suburban Cleveland, and in time from the Holocaust to a near-term dystopian future, in this outstanding short story collection Doerr probes the subject of memory in evocative prose that only enhances the richness of these consistently moving tales.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Random House). It remains to be seen whether through some combination of self-indulgence, profligacy and inattention America will slide into the chaos Shteyngart channels in this brilliant satire. We have something to say about that, he seems to be telling us. And we might do well to take heed before it's too late.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly Press, in association with El León Literary Arts). As ancient as The Iliad and as contemporary as the latest dispatch from Afghanistan, stories of war will continue to absorb and repel us. Marlantes's novel is a worthy addition to that body of literature, rising above the particularities of the conflict it describes to achieve a firm handhold on universal truth.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown Publishers). In her first book, science journalist Skloot uncovers the incredible story of Henrietta Lacks and the remarkable HeLa cells that have spurred countless scientific advances, from polio vaccine to in vitro fertilization. While it's hardly recompense for half a century of anguish, the Lacks family has attracted a worthy chronicler of their amazing, often disturbing tale.

War by Sebastian Junger (Twelve). Junger offers an intense account of his time embedded with the men of the Second Platoon of Battle Company in Afghanistan. For those who haven't experienced combat and never will, there's little to do but marvel at the courage of the men he describes and the unflinching glimpse he offers us into their lives.

Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt (Ecco). There was a time when a brief account of the three generations of a close-knit family living under the same roof and struggling to make sense of the sudden death of a young wife and mother wouldn't have been all that extraordinary. That it takes place within the last two years in an affluent household in Bethesda, Md., transforms Rosenblatt's plainspoken, heartfelt story into something remarkable.

Half a Life by Darin Strauss (McSweeney's Books). Imagine yourself a few weeks from your high school graduation, cruising down the road with a carload of your friends. Now imagine the almost inconceivable: a fellow student riding her bicycle swerves into the path of your car and is killed instantly. Novelist Strauss was the driver of that car in May 1988 and this memoir is the intense, searching account of the path he traveled from that grim day to the present.

Essays from the Nick of Time by Mark Slouka (Graywolf Press). Slouka, who teaches at the University of Chicago, offers a dozen challenging meditations (several of which have been selected previously for inclusion in the Best American Essays series) located at what he calls "the intersection of memory and history and fiction."


Top Ten Books of 2010: Robert Gray, contributing editor

My list this year seems to have naturally lined up in pairs:

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly Press). Like my Shelf colleague Marilyn Dahl, I had some reservations about reading another Vietnam novel. But this precisely detailed, evocative portrayal of hard-won survival and humanity in a combat zone turned out to be my favorite read of the year.

Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson (Harper Paperbacks). As I read this brilliant debut novel, I kept thinking that if I was still working on a bookstore sales floor, I could handsell a bunch (bookseller shorthand for dozens, maybe hundreds) of copies. "You have got to read this," I would say, like an incantation.

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier (FSG). As always, Frazier crafts a work of nonfiction that opens my eyes to a subject and a people I thought I knew something about. And how can anyone resist a book with observational gems like the fact that Lake Baikal "contains about 20% of the world's freshwater"?

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer (Vintage). Yes, it's technically a novel, but you also have to take into account the fact that Geoff Dyer is, well, Geoff Dyer, and the usual rules about any genre simply do not apply to him. There is magic in this tale and I was utterly spellbound.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (University of California Press). As many critics have pointed out, this isn't really a memoir. It's a collection of memories. Reading Twain's sharp-tongued reflections and sometimes rambling--but always illuminating--recollections is like listening to the greatest dinner conversation/monologue ever.

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve). This book is also not, strictly speaking, a memoir, but it does offer intriguing biographical details--later made more compelling with the revelation of his illness--mixed generously with fierce and brilliant opinions. Whether I agree or disagree with Hitchens on a particular subject, I still love to watch his mind at work and at play.

My Obsession with Silence
A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland (Counterpoint). This year I became intrigued with the concept of silence and its increasingly rare presence in our cacophonous world. Maitland writes a fiercely beautiful account of her attempt to pursue silence as a way of life, with all the complexities inherent in such an impossible, yet sometimes approachable, quest.

In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik (Doubleday). In contrast to Maitland's work, Prochnik explores a full range of sound and silence in human existence, noting, among many insightful observations, that we are are the only species--predator or prey--that seems compelled to consciously make so much noise as we move through the world.

Bookseller Recs
Comeback Love by Peter Golden (Staff Picks Press). I've written about the publication of Golden's novel in my column (Shelf Awareness, November 5, 2010). This book makes my list this year not only because it is a quality read that would be an easy handsell, but also because of its notable genesis as an indie bookseller-published work with national sales potential.

Merit Badges by Kevin Fenton (New Issues/Western Michigan University). At the MBA trade show in St Paul, Minn., this year, Martin Schmutterer of Common Good Books convinced me to read this novel and introduced me to the author. Thanks, Martin. Fenton's story is a beautifully crafted, perceptive and often funny evocation of some extraordinary, ordinary people.


Top Ten Books of 2010: John McFarland, reviewer

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930; reprinted by Back Bay Books). A romp through a fantastical 1920s London filled with strivers, dimwits and vampy flappers that is guaranteed to make a dreary day seem sunny and change your mood from dull to effervescent.

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King (Walker). The Paris art world went from celebrating large historical canvases in shades of brown and gray to those featuring riots of color in the decade that King covers so well. Sample factoid: Manet couldn't give away his paintings (any one of which will now cost you in excess of $45 million).

Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark (New Directions). A fraudulent academy purporting to help aspiring authors write their autobiographies provides the setting for Muriel Spark to skewer snobbery and stupidity in her most delicious, inimitable and eccentric manner.

A Gift for Admiration: Further Memoirs by James Lord (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). If you were friends with James Lord, you might not have realized he was keeping a very precise and, as it turns out, withering record of his encounters with you. Here, he delivers the goods on Peggy Guggenheim, Sonia Orwell and Isabel Rawsthorne, among other fascinating characters.

The Golden Mean: A Novel of Aristotle and Alexander the Great by Annabel Lyon (Knopf). A richly imagined and engrossing novel of fourth-century B.C. Macedon and Greece in which Aristotle tells all, including entrancing tales of his most famous student.

Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory by Patrick Wilcken (Penguin). A rich and satisfying intellectual biography of one of the foremost thinkers of the 20th century, of special interest to anthropologists and readers who thrilled to the discovery of Tristes Tropiques.

Prayer for My Enemy by Craig Lucas (Theater Communications Group, 2009). A work of theatrical genius--rich in character, emotion, regret, possibility and tragedy--that covers the war in Iraq, addiction, forbidden love and the eternal battle between the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, translated by Marion Ayton Crawford (Penguin Classics). A ramshackle Parisian boarding house, packed with some on the rise, others on the decline, is the scene of human comedy at which Balzac excels.

The Summer People by Maxim Gorky, translated by Nicholas Saunders and Frank Dwyer (Smith and Kraus, 1995). A delightful play by Maxim Gorky in a Chekhovian mood yet wielding satire like a surgeon's scalpel at the expense of the Russian bourgeoisie.

A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess (Da Capo Press). A brilliant novel about the tempestuous life of Christopher Marlowe, playwright and spy, by a master of the English language who is also a supreme entertainer.


Top Ten of 2010: Ron Hogan, reviewer

A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl (Zebra). Hands down the best historical romance I read this year. A precocious young heroine whose blossoming appetites have already gotten her into trouble, and the rough but sincere bastard son of a duke who volunteers to pretend to be engaged to her, served up with a delightfully saucy sense of humor.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow (Tor). Doctorow's second YA book is one of the year's most politically engaging novels at any level. A truly global perspective on the impact of the new economies created through the Internet, and a gripping story about labor activists struggling to organize tomorrow's outsourced workforces.

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (McPherson & Co.). If there was ever an appropriate time to say the dark horse took the National Book Award, this would be it. But Gordon's story about the not-so-glamorous side of horse racing has the potential to become an enduring noir classic.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein (Algonquin). Pete Dizinoff really didn't think the woman his son was getting involved with was suitable, so he decided to do something about it. Grodstein's masterful prose renders Pete's voice as he looks back on events, after everything has gone to hell.

The Instructions by Adam Levin (McSweeney's). In this surreal, rambling debut, a 10-year-old with counterinsurgency training leads his most troubled classmates in a violent uprising. Oh, did I mention the boy might also be the messiah? Yes, it's over 1,000 pages long; yes, it's worth it.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Random House). Even when David Mitchell decides to do a straightforward historical novel, it's still as relentlessly inventive as all his other fiction. A young Dutch merchant-in-training arrives in Nagasaki in 1799 and finds much more corruption than he'd bargained on, but that's just the surface of the emotionally complex world Mitchell creates.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Faber & Faber). I've been recommending this novel to anyone and everyone since I read it at the end of the summer. It made me laugh, then it made me cry, then it made me laugh all over again. It's simply brilliant.

So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (Harper). A domestic drama of overwhelming resonance, as a Brooklyn contractor's life savings are depleted by his wife's mesothelioma (not to mention his aging father's increasing need for care). But Shriver doesn't indulge in a lot of sweeping literary passages about what it all means; she just keeps pushing the story as hard as it will go.

The Tiger by John Vaillant (Knopf). It's the one nonfiction title on my list, but it's a doozy. A little over a decade ago, a tiger stalked the forests around a remote Siberian settlement, killing any human that got in its way. Vaillant's absorbing meditation on man's relationship to nature and the wild never loses sight of the dramatic story of this beast's rampage and the hunt to bring him down.

I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House Press). There is no one Asian-American story. But Yamashita's set of interlocking novellas goes a long way towards depicting the  turbulent development of Asian-American identity through San Francisco's political and cultural underground between 1968 and 1977. An amazing, kaleidoscopic 600-page epic that deserves to be absorbed in one marathon sitting.



Awards: Cervantes Prize; Arabic Fiction Shortlist

Spanish novelist Ana Maria Matute was named this year's recipient of the €125,000 (US$165,388) Cervantes prize, becoming only the third woman to the award for literary works in Spanish since it began in 1973, the Independent reported. Matute's works, including The Lost Children and Soldiers Cry by Night, have been translated into 23 languages. She will be honored April 23, on the anniversary of Cervantes' death in 1616.


The six shortlisted titles for the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction are:

The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Arab Cultural Centre)
The Doves' Necklace by Raja Alem (Arab Cultural Centre)
An Oriental Dance by Khalid al-Bari (El-Ain Publishing)
My Tormentor by Bensalem Himmich (Dar El Shorouk)
The Hunter of the Chrysalises (or The Head Hunter) by Amir Taj al-Sir (Cultural Publications)
Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy (Dar Merit)

The winner will be announced March 14.



Book Review

Book Review: Dangerous Times?

Dangerous Times?: The International Politics of Great Power Peace by Christopher Fettweis (Georgetown University Press, $29.95 Hardcover, 9781589017108, December 2010)

News reports confront us on a daily basis about deadly conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea and elsewhere. Anxiety is widespread that any of these hotspots could spark a major war. Is that anxiety truly justified, Christopher Fettweis asks in his provocative analysis of current thinking (and heated debate) in university political science departments.

Fettweis argues that long-held assumptions that "the international system is anarchic...; states can never be certain about the intentions of others...; and, finally, that states are rational actors" need to be reexamined in view of the way major powers have behaved since the end of World War II, and especially since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Major powers that used to go to war at the first affront to their perceived "honor" (Western Europe, Fettweis points out, was a war zone almost continually for centuries until 1945) now use peaceful means to settle disputes over areas of conflict--no major power aims to take over territory of other sovereign nations. Why is that? Has something changed in the design of the grand strategies of major powers?

Fettweis examines two major academic schools of thought with regard to international politics. The realist/neorealist school sees the world in terms of a balance of power among opposing interests; this view has held sway since the 19th century (when evidence supporting it was clear and present in every way), with its most prominent 20th-century proponent being Henry Kissinger. The constructivist school is more broadly defined as an approach to "return human agency to the study of international relations by moving ideas, norms, culture, and discourse from the periphery to its center." Not just for foreign policy wonks (although that audience will be in heaven with Fettweis's presentation of the arguments pro and con), Dangerous Times? addresses the implications for all of us of changing ideas of "balance of power, security dilemma, power transition, offense-defense theory, the relative versus absolute gains debate, hegemonic stability theory, classical geopolitics, and behavioralist approaches to war."

If Fettweis is correct in his view of the recent evidence of contained wars and the trend toward Restrained Foreign Policy and mutual cooperation among major powers that used to arm and march at the drop of a hat, we may not need to panic at each alarming news report. Among the positive factors he credits for this shift are more realistic perceptions within democratic nations about the costs and benefits of old-style wars, and increasing economic interdependence among nations (and the realization that nations prosper from trade, not armed conflict).--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: Thoughtful and provocative in the extreme, this would perfect for a book club discussion addressing foreign policy strategies; it won't be dull!


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