Shelf Awareness for Monday, December 13, 2010

Simon & Schuster: Fall Cooking With Simon Element

Tor Nightfire: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton

Shadow Mountain: Highcliffe House (Proper Romance Regency) by Megan Walker

Simon & Schuster: Register for the Simon & Schuster Fall Preview!

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time Kaliane Bradley

Quotation of the Day

On Becoming 'Literary Pod People'

"In the era of Kindle, Kobo and iPads, we have become literary pod people. While movies and music can still be a shared experience, book consumption is necessarily a solitary pursuit. Old-fashioned books can be passed around in a way that personal e-readers cannot. You might lend your friend a paperback, but would you lend them your entire library (especially one they might destroy by dropping it in the bathtub)? Sharing (or better yet stealing) the reading experience is no longer an option.

"Book buying, by extension, has become an impersonal exchange. Soulless gift cards and instant e-certificates are, of course, the only option when there is no specific book object to wrap. But giving gift cards in a long-term relationship is depressing. It's like saying, 'Here's 150 Amazon dollars. That's how much I love you. Please adjust to reflect my portion of the mortgage payment.' "

--Leah McLaren in her Globe & Mail column "How the rise of e-readers takes the fun out of giving books."


BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!


Image of the Day: Water Wars

More than 200 people attended a launch party last week for The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher (Sourcebooks Fire), at 200 Orchard in New York City. Among the crowd cheering on the new YA dystopian novel: (l. to r.) Lisa Von Drasek, children's librarian at the Bank Street  
College of Education; book blogger Nicole Bonia of Linus's Blanket; and Stracher.


Graphic Universe (Tm): Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit by Josh Hicks

Notes: Best Indie Birthday Gift; Midwest Snow Days

What's the best birthday gift an indie bookstore could receive? On December 4, the community of Zebulon, Ga. (pop. 1,200) threw a surprise fourth birthday party for Chris Curry, Susan Formby and Karen Lacey, co-owners of A Novel Experience. Curry said that the culmination of the ceremony "was the presentation of a check--an account had been set up for several months at our local bank and, through a surreptitious e-mail and word-of-mouth network, our customers donated enough money to cover this month's mortgage payment.

"We were just blown away--couldn't even talk sensibly about it for days. We are a small, rural community in west central Georgia with customers who support the store, come to our book clubs, poetry and Classics groups, gallery receptions; a pretty cool group of middle school kids do a manga night every month. If there was ever an example of the value of independent bookstores for a community, this was it. "


The weekend blizzard that snowed in the Midwest resulted in numerous business closures and event cancellations, but indie booksellers persevered. 

David Enyeart of Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, Minn., noted that the "near-whiteout conditions didn't stop Alison McGhee, author of Bink and Gollie, Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing, among many other books. She strapped on her boots and walked to Magers & Quinn Booksellers for her scheduled signing. Thanks, Alison, for going the extra snowy mile!"

An e-mail newsletter update Saturday from the Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, Wis., probably typified indie booksellers' response to the situation: "We will stay open this evening as long as there are people in the store, so come on down and get a book before you are trapped inside with nothing to read!... Please note: Due to the inclement weather, the store may not be open tomorrow, Sunday the 12th, if so it may not be right away at 10:00 am. Staff will get here as soon as it is safe to travel. Please call us before you venture out in the storm! You are welcome to shop us anytime on our website, or e-mail us with requests."


In his Los Angeles Times op-ed column "Why print survives," Tim Rutten considered the implications of last week's sale of a copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America (Shelf Awareness, December 8, 2010) for $11.5 million, as well as B&N CEO Leonard Riggio's remark recently that "digital publishing and digital bookselling will soon become the most explosive development in the history of our industry and will sweep aside those who aren't participating."

"Maybe," Rutten wrote, "or maybe it will just sweep aside the corporate concerns that arose during this anomalous era in which conglomerates gobbled up individual publishing houses, obliterated their distinctive characters, treated books like films or wildcat oil wells and paid a handful of superstar authors like movie stars. If that perfectly legitimate but not particularly edifying end of the business moves to digital formats for economic reasons, not much has been lost."


The New York Times reported on a recent "Pitchapalooza" event at the Book Revue bookstore, Huntington, N.Y. Nearly 200 people attended, most of them hoping for a chance to pitch their book ideas to a panel of publishing experts. This was part of a cross-country promotional tour by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It and Market It... Successfully!

"Who knew how many people on Long Island are looking to write a book?" said Sterry, adding, "We try to inspire people. We don't want to step on people’s dreams--and you don't know what will sell.”

--- named Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest the 2010 Book of the Year and Larsson's Millennium series the Trilogy of the Decade: "There was no denying the series' global impact upon the release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. A copy of one of Larsson's books seemed to be everywhere you turned--in cafés, trains, buses, airports, pools, parks, and so on."


Between the Covers Bookstore, a Telluride, Colo., institution for 36 years, has been purchased by Daiva Chesonis, the shop's book buyer, and Bobbi Smith, the manager, from Stuart and Joanna Brown, who had owned the business for the past 12 years. Although no major changes are envisioned, the new owners do plan to build an ABA IndieCommerce website, from which they hope to broadcast a bimonthly "Review with a View" from the top of the Telluride ski area.

"We're thrilled that all three part-time booksellers got to keep their jobs, and that in a sense, we were basically able to buy ours" said Smith.

"The community of Telluride keeps thanking us for buying the store but in turn we keep thanking them for their loyalty as it made it an easy decision to pursue this next adventurous chapter in our lives... pun totally intended," added Chesonis.

Hilary Douglas--the bookstore's sidelines buyer--and her husband, Jon Hubbard, purchased the café from the Browns. It will now be called the High Alpine Coffee Bar.


Last Friday, Brian Buckley and Kate Hunter opened Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe in Boulder, Colo. The owners said the bookshop's name was inspired by their love for Thoreau's Walden and the knowledge that "William Butler Yeats said that he wrote his poem 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' because his father used to read him passages from Walden as a boy.... We love that Thoreau's writings reached across an ocean and inspired a great poet, and we hope our store is an island in the busy world for similar retreats into self. Innisfree means Island of Heather--our poetry books will be our heather."

Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Café is located at 1203 13th St., Suite A, Boulder, Colo., 80302; 303-579-1644;


International bookstore visit of the day: featured intriguing photos of Contrapunto Bookshop in Santiago, Chile, which "is distinguished by several materials such as open pore travertine marble and crystal for the façade, black iron for the entrance door, paqujo wood for the bookcases and lapacho wood for the floors."


'Tis the season for more best books lists and gift suggestions:

The Washington Post featured its choices for top 10 books, top 10 books for young readers, best fiction and poetry, nonfiction, audiobooks, cookbooks, and home & design.

In honor of National Write a Business Plan Month, the Chicago Tribune recommended "four books--all written by Chicagoans and released in 2010--to get your economic juices flowing."

The Boston Globe showcased its best fiction, nonfiction and kids' books.

The Guardian focused on its choices for best photography books of the year.


Number 16 among New York magazine's Reasons to Love New York: "Because We’re Home to Not Only the Publishing Industry But Also to a Woman Who Spends Her Days Smelling Books"

Six months ago, artist Rachael Morrison, who works at the Museum of Modern Art's library, began wondering about the unscented future of e-books and "decided to spend her lunch breaks chronicling the unique scent of each book in the MoMA stacks." Morrison said that "smelling books is really nostalgic for me--I am often reminded of my grandparents' homes, or libraries where I used to go when I was a child."


"When Real Books Inspire Fake Books." Flavorwire looked at "five real books that exemplify literary life imitating fictional art."


What does Sarah read? The Huffington Post reported that, in an interview with Barbara Walters that will air on ABC later this week, Sarah Palin answered in more detail the question that Katie Couric stumped her with during the 2008 campaign.

"I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on as I have since I was a little girl," she said. "I'm reading the best book right now--Dean Karnazes's book about being an ultra-marathoner [Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner]. I read a lot of C.S. Lewis when I want some divine inspiration... I read Newsmax and the Wall Street Journal. I read all of our local papers of course in Alaska because that's where my heart is."

GLOW: Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura: Wild Life: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Living Wonders by Cara Giaimo, Joshua Foer, and Atlas Obscura

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Patti Smith, Stephen Sondheim on Colbert

This morning on Good Morning America: Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth (Amulet Books, $13.95, 9780810984912/0810984911).

Also on GMA: Missy Buchanan, author of Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms (Upper Room, $12, 9780835810166/083581016X).


This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: Gordon Brown, author of Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization (Free Press, $26, 9781451624052/1451624050). The former British prime minister will also appear today on Tavis Smiley, NPR's Marketplace, Charlie Rose and the Daily Show.


This morning on Fox & Friends: Frank M. Ahearn, author of How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace (Lyons Press, $16.95, 9781599219776/1599219778).


Today on Ellen: Allison Sweeney, author of The Mommy Diet (Gallery, $24, 9781439180945/1439180946).


Today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Dick Cavett, author of Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets (Times Books, $25, 9780805091953/0805091955).


Today on the View: Jeff Foxworthy, author of Hide!!! (Beaufort Books, $17.99, 9780825305542/0825305543).


Tonight on the Colbert Report: Patti Smith, author of Just Kids (Ecco, $16, 9780060936228/0060936223).


Tonight on Jimmy Kimmel Live: Rachael Ray, author of Rachael Ray's Look & Cook (Clarkson Potter, $24.99, 9780307590503/030759050X).


Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Karen Tack, author of What's New, Cupcake?: Ingeniously Simple Designs for Every Occasion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.95, 9780547241814/054724181X).


Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: David Eisenhower, author of Going Home To Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969 (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781439190906/1439190909).


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Stephen Sondheim, author of Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (Knopf, $39.95, 9780679439073/0679439072).


Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Television: First Look at BBC's Dirk Gently

BBC Four released a trailer for the upcoming series Dirk Gently, based on two novels by the late Douglas Adams--Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Blastr observed that BBC Four "bills the show as a 'drama,' but if it uses any of its source material, it should contain plenty of light British wit, ghosts and the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It may even involve the creation of all life on Earth."


Movies: I Am Number Four Trailer

Will D.J. Caruso's film version of James Frey's I Am Number Four be "the next Twilight or Harry Potter?" asked the New York Daily News in featuring a new trailer for the movie and noting that the premise "sounds promising, but is it franchise material? A second book, called The Power of Six, is reportedly due out next year."


Books & Authors

Awards: BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction Shortlist

Finalists for the $40,000 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction are On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women by Stevie Cameron, What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son’s Quest to Redeem the Past by James FitzGerald, Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran and The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant. The winner will be named January 31 in Vancouver, the Globe & Mail reported.


Our Top Ten Lists: Part III

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

Top 10 Books of 2010: Shannon McKenna Schmidt, contributing writer

5th Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson (Harper). This is the dramatic story of the creation of the iconic film, which almost didn't make it to the screen, and a fascinating slice of social and cultural history--like how Holly Golightly became a pre-feminist role model.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race by Jon Stewart (Grand Central). A necessity for inspiring laughs in between episodes of The Daily Show.

Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving It All on Top of Africa by Daniel Dorr (Mountaineers Books). Be careful what you say on a first date. In this engaging and colorful travelogue, self-professed "ordinary guy" Daniel Dorr recalls his journey from a coffee shop in California to the top of Africa's highest peak.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'Homme (Anchor, 2009). An endearing romance, vivid depictions of life in Paris, and luscious descriptions of food and wine make this a marvelous story. But the most appealing aspect is Julia Child's enthusiastic sense of adventure. It was the perfect book to read before setting out on a multi-year, cross-country road trip (a highlight: seeing Julia's kitchen at the National Museum of American History).

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Voice). Nine people of varying ages and backgrounds are trapped in an Indian consulate office after an earthquake in an unnamed American city. A sort of modern-day version of The Canterbury Tales, they take turns sharing stories of one amazing thing that happened in their lives. Delivered in beautiful prose and a nail-biting storyline is the provocative idea that people are not always who they seem to be. Nearly a year later, I'm still thinking about aspects of this novel.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (W.W. Norton). Roach is an entertaining, intrepid guide as she reveals everything you want to know about the day-to-day realities of space travel and life without gravity--and some things you don't.

Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth by Hilary Spurling (Simon & Schuster). Pearl Buck's journey to writing The Good Earth was a long, tumultuous one, unfolded in this fascinating chronicle of how she was influenced--personally and professionally--by a time and place: rural China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books by Margaret Willes (Yale University Press). An insightful and delightful journey through the history of book buying and selling. Intriguing historical facts and anecdotes--including a look inside famed diarist Samuel Pepys's vast personal library complete with trendsetting, custom-made bookshelves--make it an addictive read for book lovers.

Something Missing by Matthew Dicks (Broadway, 2009). In this fun, clever mystery, the "bad guy" is actually a good guy. An endearing thief with a conscience (and obsessive-compulsive disorder), Martin Railsback steals only items that will go unnoticed and even plays guardian angel to the homeowners he burglarizes.

Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen (Dutton). Kagen's third novel is as wonderful as her first two. In rural Virginia during the summer of 1968, brave, resourceful 11-year-old Shenandoah Carmody has a mission: to find out why her mother disappeared a year ago. Tomorrow River is great storytelling--heartbreak, hope, sisters, secrets, suspense, and an atmospheric Southern setting.


Top 10 Books of 2010: Robin Lenz, managing editor

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown). What more can I say about this book, which has received universal praise? Skloot's stunning debut tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor, black Virginia woman who died in 1951 of cancer at the age of 30. It's also the fascinating tale of what became of her cells, taken without permission and developed into an incredibly useful lab strain known as HeLa--used to develop countless valuable medical breakthroughs, while Lacks's family remained impoverished. A detective story, a science story, a human story.

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst (Doubleday) This one's also my nominee for book that deserved more attention this year. On the surface it's a murder mystery. It's also about the relationship between novelist Octavia Frost and her estranged son, rock star Milo. And it's about how stories come to be, and how they're written and re-written. Octavia is working on her eighth novel, a series of revisions of her previous books, when she learns Milo is suspected of murdering his fiancée. The details of their pasts and the "alternate endings" are revealed as Olivia attempts to help Milo, revising their own family history along the way.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (Norton). In witty, anecdote-filled prose, Roach tackles a serious subject: the challenges of space travel. If you've ever wondered how astronauts use the latrine in zero-G, you'll find out here. And so much more: fascinating psychological, physical, emotional and technical details, illuminated by Roach's entertaining curiosity.

Faithful Place by Tana French (Viking). Detective Frank Mackey thought he'd escaped from his dysfunctional family and Dublin's hardscrabble Faithful Place. But 22 years later, he's drawn back when an old suitcase is discovered in an abandoned house. It belonged to the girl Frank had expected to elope with. So she didn't dump him--but what did happen to her? Every belief Frank has based his life on is upended as truths are slowly revealed. Edgar Award-winner French's third book, like her others, is unforgettable.

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead). Among the slew of post-apocalyptic books I read this year, Nunez's quiet recounting stands out. Cole Vining, teenage son of urban liberal atheists, is orphaned by a flu pandemic that kills millions worldwide. He's adopted by a charismatic fundamentalist preacher and his wife, who raise him in midwestern Salvation City. As Cole comes of age, he's trying to figure out his place in this new world, with its new values. Gripping and all too plausible, this book sent me running for a flu shot.

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins). In this travelogue/memoir/econ lesson, Hessler begins with an epic road trip across China, following the Great Wall, then he lives for a while in a mountain village. The final section focuses on a small factory town. Through the everyday lives of individuals, Hessler gives us a fascinating portrait of an ancient country hurtling into the 21st century, informed by his trademark wit and insight.

Zero History by William Gibson (Putnam). Characters we met in the earlier Pattern Recognition and Spook Country (including former rock singer Hollis Henry) return as Gibson explores our consumer culture's obsession with things--in this case, a brand of denim clothing called Gabriel Hounds. This isn't science fiction, it's a thriller, and though the stakes may not seem meaningful, Gibson's stylish tale kept me entertained, and made me look at everyday objects with a new eye.

Kraken by China Mieville (Del Rey). In this surreal, living London, a humongous giant squid is stolen from a museum. As he seeks to recover the kidnapped mollusk, curator Billy Harrow finds himself involved with cults, demons, gangsters, magic. Though it's a bit overstuffed, Mieville's latest is a captivating, messy blend of horror and humor.

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (Bantam Spectra). In this two-volume novel (unfortunately, published months apart), three researchers are sent from Oxford in 2060 to World War II London. There's not much science in this science fiction; just trust that time travel works the way Willis says it does. Willis's tale is really about everyday people caught up in the drama and terror of the war. From details of architecture, medical care and department stores in the 1940s to the ways people coped with shortages and entertained themselves in shelters during bombings, it's clear that Willis has done her research, and she manages to convey all this mundane information in a style that's moving and, ultimately, suspenseful.

Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré (Viking). Le Carré's latest is a change from his Cold War novels; it literally begins in a sunnier place: Antigua, where a vacationing British couple meets a Russian money-launderer over a game of tennis. Dima asks them to deliver a message for him, and soon they find themselves caught between the Russian mob and the British MI6. Plenty of villains, sharp pacing and great dialogue make this timely expose of international banking one of le Carré's best.


Top 10 Books of 2010: Amber Elbon, newsletter/web producer

The Walking Dead (Paperbacks #1-10) by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn (Image Comics). I'm not the type who usually reads books about zombies, much less recommends them. But ever since a comic book shop owner handed me the first issue of The Walking Dead as a freebie, I've been heading back to the store regularly for more issues. Rich with complex characters and situations, full of gasp-inducing plot twists, it's no wonder AMC chose to make a TV series based on these graphic novels.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Black Cat). A captivating book about two women with dark secrets and an underlying connection. Set in Soviet-occupied Estonia, this story introduced me to a land I knew next to nothing about. Oksanen skillfully weaves histories together to form a rich, complex novel.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay (St. Martin's) It is easy to forget sometimes that World War II is not so long ago or so far away. This story reminds us how close those events are to all of us. An American in Paris uncovers a secret from war time that hits close to her heart and home, beginning a journey of discovery and healing. The ending of this book is particularly satisfying.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin). When Ralph Truitt placed an ad for "a reliable wife" in the newspaper, he likely wasn't expecting love, but he probably wasn't expecting to marry a woman who would slowly poison him either. Alas, he got a bit of both. A fascinating book that completely surprised me.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (Doubleday). For young Rose, food and her family are never the same after she discovers that she can taste emotions. Her mystical palate provides her with insight into the inner lives of others, which she must make sense of as she grows into adulthood. A charming concept and earnest coming-of-age tale.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic) I read all three shortly after Mockingjay came out, and for anyone new to the series, I recommend planning on reading them together. They are thoroughly entertaining and guaranteed to win you "cool" points with teenagers.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard with Ariane Conrad (Free Press). The message that society must end the glorification of consumerism and growth for its own sake is increasingly prevalent. Unfortunately much of it is received as nothing but liberal fearmongering. Leonard mixes her facts with first-hand accounts and line-drawn illustrations to deliver her message in a friendly and enlightening way, without finger-pointing at the reader.

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez (Riverhead). This coming-of-age story is complicated by an international flu pandemic that orphans the protagonist. Suddenly placed in an evangelical Christian home after being raised by atheist parents hostile toward religion, Cole must make sense of the changes to his life, family and the world, while struggling to find his place in it.


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

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


Music of the Distant Stars by Alys Clare (Severn House, $28.95, 9780727869418/0727869418). "This medieval murder mystery wonderfully captures the dynamics of the time period and is infused with engaging characters and great dialogue. The young heroine, Lassair, is an apprentice healer--endearing, exasperating, and true to both her age and era. A wonder of creative construction!"--Eileen Charbonneau, Merritt Books, Millbrook, N.Y.

How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
by Sarah Bakewell (Other Press, $25, 9781590514252/1590514254). "Bakewell has written a thoroughly engaging look at the life and work of Michel de Montaigne, whose incessantly questioning approach to life is both remarkably modern and usefully instructive, even though he composed his famous essays more than 400 years ago."--Dale Szczeblowski, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass.


Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb (Europa Editions, $15, 9781933372778/193337277X). "In this debut novel, originally published in 1992, a Nobel Laureate novelist spars with several journalists he has agreed to meet upon learning that he has only two months to live. Each of the interviews ends with little satisfaction on either side until, finally, a young woman journalist manages to hold her own. She's the only one who has read his novels, and she raises questions about his life and work that lead to an unexpected conclusion. Written almost entirely in dialogue, the book reads like a brilliant and graceful fencing match, and we are pulled along, unsure who will win."--Alice Meloy, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex.

For Teen Readers

Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17, 9780547501956/0547501951). "Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank. This book re-imagines that story as experienced by Peter, the teenage boy who lived in the Annex with the Frank family. Peter's voice is haunting and heartbreaking. His pleas for people to remember, to believe, will stay with you long after the book has ended."--Kyla Paterno, Garfield Book Company at PLU, Tacoma, Wash.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Baseball's Second Season Heats Up

Just in time for salary negotiations, free agents and nail-biting waits for trades comes Hot Stove Economics: Understanding Baseball's Second Season by J.C. Bradbury (Springer, $24.95, 9781441962683/1441962689, October 2010). The Yankees want Cliff Lee for $161 million, Carl Crawford got $142 million, and the hot stove continues to heat up. And is Derek Jeter really worth what the Yankees will pay him? As baseball fans longg for spring to start, J.C. Bradbury's book explains what baseball players are really worth and why. He took some time from analyzing data like revenue growth and players' birth months to answer a few questions about pay and play.

Who are baseball's "most valuable" players?

My choices for the 2010 MVPs are based on expected revenue generated for their teams through their play on the field. Better play leads to more wins, which leads to more fans in the seats and more income for the team.

For position players, Albert Pujols ($22 million) in the NL and Jose Bautista ($21 million) in the AL were the best. For pitchers, Roy Halladay ($21 million) was the most valuable pitcher in the NL, and Cliff Lee ($19 million) was the most valuable pitcher in the AL.

Who is overpaid and who deserves a raise, and why are contract terms are just as important as playing ability?

Most of the overpaid players in the league are veterans, many of whom are perennial All-Stars. For example, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have both recently commanded salaries over $20 million per year while generating less than half that in revenue. The bargain players tend to be younger players who cannot shop their services to the highest bidder on the free-agent market like veterans can.

You don't have to be an elite player to be valuable to your team. Some players are valuable to their teams because they make such low salaries. The collective bargaining rules allow teams to pay young players salaries far below their financial worth on the field. For example, though Jason Heyward's play was worth $14 million (about a two-thirds of what the best players generated), he earned the league-minimum salary of $400,000. Heyward is going to have his salary limited below his true worth for the next five seasons, so he's extremely valuable as an asset. A player who earns a salary equivalent to his true worth isn't going to be as valuable as a player who is locked into a low salary. That is why it is sometimes teams get very little in return when they trade expensive veterans.

Why are free agents worth their seemingly exorbitant salaries?

Baseball teams earn lots of money--generating around $6 billion in revenue annually--and teams that win get more money. Over the past decade, attendance has risen with ticket prices. Fans are willing to pay more for better baseball. Thus, as revenues have grown with the popularity of the sport, player salaries have risen accordingly.

Baseball players have unique and valuable skills, and thus command high wages. If we imposed a salary cap, the income that teams take in wouldn't disappear. Instead, it would be transferred to owners. I think it's interesting that fans often side with owners during labor disputes. We see the big salaries for playing a game that children play and can't understand why players can't be satisfied for incomes that most Americans won't see in their lifetimes. Gregory Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media (which owns the Atlanta Braves), earned more than the entire payroll of the Braves in 2010. If the millionaire players take less, then the billionaire owners will get more. Taking a pay cut doesn't make the game cheaper or send aid to Third World countries.

How do the Mets lose and the Twins win, both on and off the field?

The Twins and Mets have taken divergent strategies as organizations. The Mets have spent a large share of their resources signing free agents while the Twins have concentrated on developing players within their minor-league system. The Twins spend less money by getting players who are good but earn less than their market worth.

From 2000 to 2009, the Twins earned an average of $32 million per year more in playing value than they paid out in salaries. The Mets paid out an average of $25 million per year more in salaries than they received in playing value. Over this span, the Twins made the playoffs five times, and Mets made the playoffs twice.

Comparing 2010 rosters: 21 players were drafted by the Twins, and only six were acquired through free agency. Nine players were drafted by the Mets and 21 were acquired through free agency. The Mets signed as many free agents as Twins drafted: 21. The expensive mistakes made by the Mets add up.

Why is there is no such thing as a clutch hitter/pitcher?

Baseball announcers love to talk about excellence (or lack of) in the clutch. Now, there is no doubt that players have heroic and goat moments, but, when you try and find players who are consistently good or bad when it matters the most, you can't find them. I looked at pitchers and hitters and how they performed with runners in scoring position, and I found that past performance in this area had no effect. My results mirror those of other statisticians who have looked for evidence of clutch ability. Adding clutch players would be nice, but they don't exist. To win in baseball, you need good players.


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