Shelf Awareness for Monday, February 14, 2011

Storey Publishing: The Universe in Verse: 15 Portals to Wonder Through Science & Poetry by Maria Popova

Tommy Nelson: You'll Always Have a Friend: What to Do When the Lonelies Come by Emily Ley, Illustrated by Romina Galotta

Jimmy Patterson: Amir and the Jinn Princess by M T Khan

Peachtree Publishers: Erno Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, Illustrated by Kara Kramer

Beacon Press: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Inkshares: Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Tundra Books: On a Mushroom Day by Chris Baker, Illustrated by Alexandria Finkeldey

Blue Box Press: A Soul of Ash and Blood: A Blood and Ash Novel by Jennifer L Armentrout


Borders Reportedly to Declare Bankruptcy This Week

As early as today or tomorrow, Borders will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, close between 150 and 250 of its 500 superstores and 165 smaller stores and lay off thousands of its 19,500 employees, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The move comes after the company's implausible plan to have publishers finance millions of dollars in debt went nowhere, and its two major shareholders--chairman Bennett LeBow and Pershing Square Capital's William Ackman--apparently decided not to invest any more money in the company. (LeBow will likely lose the $25 million he invested last year and Pershing Square will bid adieu to at least $125 million.)

The Journal said that Borders has abandoned efforts to refinance its debts (its agreement last month with GE Capital for $550 million in loans was contingent on Borders obtaining other loans and having publishers and others assume some of its debt) and is now seeking debtor-in-possession bankruptcy financing for about $450 million. It's also talking with GA Capital about converting some $50 million in junior debt to bankruptcy financing and obtaining another $10 million.

In its bankruptcy filing, Borders will list about $1 billion in liabilities. "Many Wall Street bankers and lawyers who have studied the chain believe it may not be able to avoid liquidation," the Journal added.

Late on Friday, shares in Borders fell 33% and hit a new all-time low of 25 cents after the Journal reported on the company's plans. The company's market capitalization is now a mere $18 million, or less than $28,000 per store.

Today's Wall Street Journal predicts that Borders's contraction and possible end "will mean fewer places for consumers to buy books, which in turn is expected to speed the pace of online and e-book sales."

The Journal did note that Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers should benefit from Borders's closings.

But several people see the Borders saga as what one called "the penultimate step in the demise of bookstores in general."

Mark Coker, CEO of e-book publisher Smashwords, said, "If you remove books from our towns and villages and malls, there will be less opportunity for the serendipitous discovery of books. And that will make it tougher to sell books."

Author Seth Godin said, as the Journal put it, "What will be published in the future will have less to do with what bookstores carry and more to do with what readers tell each other about new books."

Literary agent Larry Kirshbaum expressed concern about Borders's contraction on works by little-known or new writers, saying, "Overall, Borders is probably around 8% of sales for many publishers, but on certain titles, Borders could be 20%. That's a big number, especially when you are talking about smaller titles. How will those books get adequate distribution?"


Weldon Owen: The Gay Icon's Guide to Life by Michael Joosten, Illustrated by Peter Emerich

Borders Missteps Go Back 20 Years

In the many analyses of Borders's problems, people cite a range of reasons, most notably the company's decision to outsource its website to Amazon in 2001; a revolving door in the executive suite over the past few years; expensive long-term leases; and a huge debt load. But for us there were other factors that hurt Borders, some of the company's own making, some it had no control over:

The purchase of Borders by Kmart in 1992 was not so bad in and of itself, but Kmart's decision to merge Borders with Waldenbooks, which Kmart had bought in 1984, was disastrous. From computers to company culture to focuses on different types of readers, Borders and Walden were a bad fit, and hobbled each other. For Borders in particular, the timing couldn't have been worse: in the early '90s, chain superstores were beginning major expansion, and Borders was distracted by the ultimately unsuccessful effort to merge with Walden. Successive regimes at Borders never seemed to appreciate Walden, which at one point had some 1,300 stores, except perhaps as a cash cow.

For many years, Borders, which was spun off by Kmart and went public in 1995, had several CEOs from outside the business--for some reason, two came from food retailing, notably Hickory Farms and Jewel-Osco, and hired many other top executives from outside the book business. While having some people from nonbook industries could provide fresh air and helpful new perspectives, this tendency seemed to have a corrosive effect on a company that in its early years was famous for its knowledgeable booksellers and solid, deep selection. One minor measure: it's been years since anyone has mentioned the once-legendary book quiz given to prospective Borders staffers. Likely most of the people running the company in the past few years wouldn't pass it.

One of the worst ideas brought in from the grocery store world was category management--the guiding principle of the company for a good part of the last decade that involved publishers sponsoring and managing sections--which maybe made sense for food retailing but was a mind-numbing distraction for Borders and publishers alike when the company should have been addressing some of its long-term problems, developing its own website and preparing in other ways for the electronic revolution.

One of Borders's early advantages--its computer system, the creation of Louis Borders in the company's early years--became dated after the Borders brothers sold the company to Kmart. For many years, Borders and Walden continued to use separate computer systems. In addition, the Borders system has continued to use proprietary bar codes, which means that every book ever sold by Borders has had to have a special sticker printed out and applied to it, usually over the industry-standard bar code that is printed on all covers and jackets now. Stocking and restocking in the Borders system lagged behind its competition.

From our point of view, Borders's last chance for a turnaround came during the period when George Jones, CEO from 2006 until early 2009, headed the company. He undertook a series of initiatives, including extensive store remodeling, taking back the company's website from Amazon, creating (again) a publishing program, improving merchandising and buying processes. He also spun off most of the international operations, which were usually profitable, but which many considered a distraction. Unfortunately, the financial collapse in 2008 shook the company to the ground, bringing on the Ackman-LeBow era of the past two years, when a hedge fund manager and a corporate raider, both of whom represent the worst of American capitalism, took over and drove the company into the ground.

The record of William Ackman and Bennett LeBow at Borders has involved inadequate investment, brutal staff cuts, the squeezing of remaining employees, a revolving door in the executive suite, deals that seemed to benefit them more than the company and other shareholders, deafness about the company's problems and the hiring of more management with no experience in the book world. Last year, who could not believe the end was at hand when the new chairman and major shareholder of Borders turned out to be a man who had a history of destroying companies, "borrowing" from them, and whose claim to fame was taking over a cigarette company?--John Mutter


BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Notes: Governor Sends Valentine to Amazon in Texas Showdown

In a 24/7 Wall St. piece headlined "Will Amazon Run Out of Places to Operate Its Business?" Douglas McIntyre analyzed Amazon's decision to close its Texas distribution center because of a sales tax dispute (Shelf Awareness, Friday, February 5, 2011) and concluded that the "leverage the states have over e-commerce companies is two-fold. The first is that they can present Amazon with tax bills which will certainly rise over time. States could charge interest and penalties on this money if it goes unpaid. A court decision in favor of the states could cost the e-commerce industry billions of dollars and ongoing tax payments which would erode their margins permanently.

"The other important power the states have is that the logistics operations of companies like Amazon have to be located somewhere. Amazon will eventually be tripped by its own infrastructure needs. Amazon's game of chicken with the states is not one it will win." Despite the state's apparent power--and its huge budget gap--it might cave. Texas Governor Rick Perry told the Washington Examiner that the state controller's effort to seek uncollected sales tax from is "not a decision I would have made" and said he hoped the state legislature, which is in session, "will be able to craft some legislation--and actually do it--before Amazon walks out the door."

Perry argued this way: "You couldn't go in and buy anything out of that store, and that, historically, has been the way we defined whether you pay taxes or not--if you had a storefront. This obviously didn't have a store front. It was specifically there to manage products that need to be shipped out."


The Boston Globe's Mark Shanahan and his daughter, Julia, spent a recent weekend day visiting the New England Mobile Book Fair, Newton Highlands, "whose knowledgeable staff reminds me of the characters from 'Scooby-Doo.' And you can't beat the volume--and variety--of the collection, which is stocked floor to ceiling over 35,000 square feet. Opened more than 50 years ago by the Strymish family, the bookstore is currently for sale, and I dearly hope the buyer is someone with the sense to leave it alone."


Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, N.Y, will close by the end of March. Owner Gary Weissbrot, who purchased the business five years ago, told the Ithaca Journal that as the last indie downtown selling new books he hoped he might have a chance. "I thought with the uniqueness, perhaps we could survive, but it has not been enough. We are in a real Gutenberg moment where there is a real change in how people read and procure books.... Book lovers, like myself, felt who wants to read off a screen? Well the fact is that people today have been looking at little screens for most of their reading life."


Love is in the air today, but the deadline has passed for entries in Eisenbrauns fourth annual Ancient Near Eastern Valentine contest, which was "once again looking for a few good scholars to display both love and linguistics" by submitting "no more than three original compositions in any ancient Near Eastern language (ancient Greek is also allowed), accompanied by an English translation." Music, artwork, and video entries were also welcome. For examples of some amazing Valentine's Day creations, check out Eisenbrauns contest results for 2008, 2009 and 2010.


How not to win friends and influence people in the children's book community. On BBC's new book program, Faulks on Fiction, Martin Amis offended almost everyone by saying, "People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book,' but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.... I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write."

The Guardian reported that author Lucy Coats called the remarks "arrogant twaddle" with an "implicit insult to those of us who do write children's books."

Writer Jane Stemp, who has cerebral palsy, said, "I have brain damage.... So Amis couldn't have insulted me harder if he'd sat down and thought about it for a year. Superglueing him to a wheelchair and piping children's fiction into his auditory canal suddenly seems like a good idea."


Hyperlink -1.0: Maria Fischer's Traumgedanken book, a collection of "literary, philosophical, psychological and scientifical texts" about dreams, "uses threads pierced through the pages and affixed to other pages to make physical hyperlinks between ideas," Boing Boing reported.


Book trailer of the day: Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away by Jennette Fulda (Gallery Books).


It may be too late to make submissions for the Oscars, but there is still time to make nominations for the Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) awards, sponsored by COVR, which consists of retailers, wholesalers and others in the New Age/Metaphysical arena in North America. The awards honor the best books, music and sideline/gifts in the New Age industry.

Booksellers in the U.S. and Canada judge the nominations, and the COVR board of directors makes final decisions. Winners and runners up are announced at INATS, the International New Age Trade Show, held June 25-27 in Denver.

For more information and to make nominations, go to


Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Media and Movies

Media Heat: The Lover's Dictionary on Valentine's Day!

This morning on the Early Show: Jonathan Franklin, author of 33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners (Putnam, $25.95, 9780399157776).


This morning on Imus in the Morning: Keith Ablow, co-author of The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life (Threshold, $24.99, 9781451625516).


This morning on the Today Show: Janet Jackson, author of True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself (Karen Hunter, $25.99, 9781416587248).

Also on Today: Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us (Grand Central, $19.99, 9780446559904).


Today on the Wendy Williams Show: Phillip Bloch, author of The Shopping Diet: Spend Less and Get More (Gallery, $15, 9781439110263).


Today on NPR's All Things Considered: David Levithan, author of The Lover's Dictionary: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18, 9780374193683).


Today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Frank Delaney, author of The Matchmaker of Kenmare: A Novel of Ireland (Random House, $26, 9781400067848).


Tonight on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight: Bethenny Frankel, author of A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life (Touchstone, $24.99, 9781439186909).


Tonight on the Daily Show: Edward Glaeser, author of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (Penguin Press, $29.95, 9781594202773).


Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Cheryl Burke, author of Dancing Lessons: How I Found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life (Wiley, $24.95, 9780470640005).


Tomorrow on ABC's Money Matters: Wayne Rogers, co-author of Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success (AMACOM, $23, 9780814416570).


Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Donald Bogle, author of Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters (Harper, $26.99, 9780061241734).


Tomorrow on Oprah: Carrie Fisher, author of Wishful Drinking (Simon & Schuster, $13.99, 9781439153710).


Movies: I Am Number Four, Unknown

I Am Number Four, based on the book by James Frey (yes, that James Frey) and Jobie Hughes writing as Pittacus Lore, number one in the Lorien Legacies series, opens this Friday, February 18. Alex Pettyfer stars as a superhero hiding among normal teenagers to avoid a deadly enemy. Directed by D.J. Caruso. A movie tie-in edition is available from HarperCollins ($17.99, 9780062026248).


, based on the novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert, also opens this Friday. Liam Neeson stars as a man who discovers his identity has been stolen upon waking from a coma. A movie tie-in edition is available from Penguin ($14, 9780143119012).


Television: Houdini & Conan Doyle as Sleuths

The Syfy network is developing a series titled Among the Spirits, named after Houdini's book A Magician Among the Spirits, published in 1924. reported that the "drama series project about Houdini and Doyle solving mysteries in 1920s" is based on a self-published graphic novel, Among the Spirits, by Steve Valentine and Paul Chart.

Mark Stern, Syfy's president of original programming, described the project as " 'a turn-of-the-century Fringe' in the vein of steampunk TV classic The Wild Wild West and Guy Ritchie's 2009 movie Sherlock Homes which put the steampunk genre back into the zeitgeist," noted.


Trailer for Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

The first official trailer has been released for the film adaption of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The initial movie in a planned trilogy, starring Taylor Schilling (Dagny Taggart), Grant Bowler (Henry Rearden) and Matthew Marsden (James Taggart), is scheduled to hit theaters April 15.


Books & Authors

Awards: Grammy Spoken-Word Winners

Winners in audiobook categories at the Grammy Awards last night:

Best spoken-word album (including poetry, audiobooks and storytelling):

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (the Audiobook) by Jon Stewart, with Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones, John Oliver and Sigourney Weaver (Hachette Audio)

Best spoken word album for children:

Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton (Hachette Audio)


On Growing a Farmer: Growing a Handseller

On Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister (Norton, $24.95, 9780393070859)

We've all had this thought: "Enough. I must make a change. I will buy a farm. I can live off the land." But do you know anyone who really has? Meet Kurt Timmermeister.

I have known of Kurt for years. I regularly went to his gem of a café called Septième in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, sipped lattes out of a bowl and wondered how he could produce such amazing baked goods in one of the tiniest kitchens I'd ever seen.

Eventually he expanded to a place with a bigger kitchen and added a full menu. There Kurt began to be troubled by the cases of Cryovac-packaged chicken breasts that piled up in the kitchen, an example of the disconnect between people and where their food comes from. It was during this time that he bought a farm on Vashon Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle.

In the beginning, it was not much of a farm: four acres, most of which were covered in blackberry brambles, a rat- and ivy-infested log cabin, some historic greenhouses and a chicken house. As a bonus, the property also included some 16 broken-down, rusty cars.

Kurt lived in the chicken house while he slowly cleared the land, got rid of all the junk, made the cabin livable and uncovered the wonders in his yard. He dreamt of having cows and goats and selling vegetables. The more he watched his big restaurant flourish, the less he wanted to eat at it.

So he sold his restaurant and dedicated himself fulltime to "growing a farmer," as his lovely book just out is titled.

In the book, we learn how to keep bees, make cider and vinegar, the importance of milking cows, the ruthless nature of chickens, the wiliness of goats and how to butcher a pig. Kurt exudes respect for everything he does. "Nature is cruel," he writes. "Farming has brought me close to the wonders and joys of nature, but also to the dirt and death that make them possible." Through his experiences, we come to reconsider where our food comes from and the importance of eating locally.

On enjoying a farmer's bounty: Stesha Brandon of the University Book Store and Rick Simonson of Elliott Bay Book Company.

On a misty grey Seattle Saturday this past November, Kurt welcomed a group of booksellers, journalists and me to his farm to discuss the book and have lunch. I brought my seven year-old daughter, Lily.

Lily and I marveled at the cows, ran races around the raised beds of kale and peered into the chicken tractor. Lily's favorite part was chasing around Kurt's dogs.

We dined on Kurt's hand-crafted cheese, copa, pâté, squash soup, pappardelle with farm fresh eggs tossed with pork and cheese. Lily and I couldn't believe his mind-blowing butter. While we ate, we discussed Kurt's book. After stuffing ourselves on the amazing food, we all wondered when Kurt would come out with a cookbook. A week later, when I offered Lily butter with her bread, she said, "Mommy. There is no other butter that matters after Mr. Kurt's."

On Growing a Farmer is refreshingly not in the Peter Mayle style of "I've moved to this wacky place and here are all the zany stories of these people who live here." There are some parts that are incredibly beautiful that show us the wonders of nature (oh how I suddenly yearn for bees and baby lambs!) and some passages that are astoundingly brutal. Do not shelve this book back in the gardening section. It belongs with Michael Pollan's books. Or even better, make a new section. Call it "Be a Respectful Person and Do Things That Are Good for the World that Are Fun and Cool Without Being Preachy." And then put On Growing a Farmer front and center and enjoy finding the others to go with it.--Jenn Risko


Book Review

Book Review: Ghost Light

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor (Farrar Straus Giroux, $25.00 Hardcover, 9780374161873, February 2011)


In a novel reminiscent in many pleasurable ways of Joyce's Ulysses, Joseph O'Connor has painted an indelible portrait of a man, a woman and a time.

Molly Allgood, stage name Maire O'Neill, is the centerpiece of the novel. When she and John Millington Synge, playwright and co-director of the Abbey Theatre (with W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory), meet and fall in love, he is 35, she 19. Molly and her sister, Sara, are members of the Abbey Company, Ireland's National Theatre. She is of Irish peasant stock, poorly educated, a Catholic, a young woman of huge appetites and ambition, a vamp and a beauty. She attracts men everywhere she goes, but her affections settle on Synge, ill with Hodgkins' disease, cranky, well-born, educated and a Protestant. Neither family is amused. The scenes where each meets the other's family are horrifyingly hilarious; the Irish Catholics falling all over themselves, with the exception of Granny, and the haughty Protestant Mama cold and contemptuous.

In faultless, elegant prose that is oh-so Irish in its music, O'Connor takes us through a day in London, in 1952, the year Molly died, and, in a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy, allows us to see what became of her after Synge died. Interwoven with that story is the courtship of Molly and John, and a poor thing it was, consisting mostly of 10-mile walks across terrain where they would not be seen. There is--finally--one idyll where they actually get to spend time together. Molly has told her mother that the company is on tour and she and John head off for what appears to be their only real tryst. It ends badly when he won't set a marriage date. He says that he can't afford to be married; the truth is that he is intimidated by his mother, and Molly knows it.

Molly's reminiscences take place as she walks through London, from her flat to the BBC, where she has a part in a radio play. She is penniless, selling off possessions to buy brandy, a hungry street drunk who is only one step away from panhandling. On the other hand, she wears her one good Worth blouse to that day's work and, though overcome with terrible pain while on air, soldiers on and finishes her part at full throttle.

A ghost light is "an ancient superstition among people of the stage. One lamp must always be left burning when the theatre is dark, so the ghosts can perform their own plays." This story is full of ghosts: lost love, lost friends, Molly's realization of a past that is dead, one in which she is no longer invited anywhere, seldom employed and important to no one. She has become a ghost. Drink is her only friend now, and in the throes of it, all the ghosts show themselves--even John, her Tramp, and she his Changeling. O'Connor has brought to brilliant, three-dimensional life these two ill-matched people. The tale is never romantic, but it is a love story.--Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: A fictionalized version of the real-life story of John Millington Synge and Maire O'Neill (Molly Allgood), theater life and the mores of London and Dublin at the turn of the century.


The Bestsellers

Top Book Club Books in January

The following are the most popular book club books during January based on votes from readers of 27,000 book clubs registered at

1. Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
2. Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave
3. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel by Jamie Ford
4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
6. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
8. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
9. Cutting for Stone: A Novel by Abraham Verghese
10. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Rising Stars:

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua is new to the top 100 at #97
Tinkers by Paul Harding rose to #33 from #65.

[Many thanks to!]


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