Shelf Awareness for Friday, April 8, 2011

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

Grove Press: Reptile Memoirs by Silje Ulstein, translated by Alison McCullough

Beach Lane Books: The Great Zapfino by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Princeton University Press: Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern (Bollingen #669) by Mary Beard

Berkley Books: Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

Henry Holt & Company: Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon

Wednesday Books: Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez


Image of the Day: Auel Speaks

Last week at the Strand Book Store, New York City, Jean M. Auel celebrated the publication of The Land of Painted Caves, the sixth and final book in the Earth's Children series. Asked about whether she would consider making another movie based on her books, she talked about her experience when Clan of the Cave Bears was released and said she would leave future requests for film adaptations up to her five children. Here Auel (l.) poses with Strand owner Nancy Bass Wyden.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

Notes: March Retail Sales Up; Amazon's S.C. Tax Incentives

Retail sales for March were surprisingly solid, despite bad weather in many areas of the country, rising gas prices and a late Easter this year. The Wall Street Journal noted that the majority of retail chains "reported decent gains for the month at stores open a year or more," with sales at general retailers rising 1.7% in March, as tracked by Thomson Reuters. Analysts had predicted a 0.7% gain.

"I was worried about the fragile progress we have seen so far on the part of retailers, which is really a reflection of consumers," said Barbara Kahn, director of the Jay Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "But March, even though a complicated month, does suggest more progress on the road to recovery."

The National Retail Federation expects consumers "to be out in force heading toward Easter," the Journal reported. U.S. retail spending on Easter-related merchandise is projected to average $131.04 a person this year, up 11% from 2010, and NRF president Matthew Shay called this trend "a good sign leading into the much busier and important months to come."

Joel Bines of AlixPartners told the New York Times that the "thing about retail is everyone talks about weather and holiday shifts, and that's usually deep enough analysis for most. But we're seeing a real firmness in the marketplace for retailers that used the last couple of years to get their house in order."


Although she still opposes a sales tax break for Amazon, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said Wednesday she will let state lawmakers decide the matter. WSPA-7 reported that Haley "doesn't want to use state tax policy to pick winners and losers, but she will let the tax break become law without her signature if it passes." Amazon is building a distribution facility that would bring 1,200 jobs to Lexington County.

Yesterday, a coalition of community and business leaders gathered at the Lexington County administration building to show their support for Amazon, arguing that the online retailer is not attempting to avoid charging sales tax on items. "They said it is the responsibility of shoppers to pay that tax on their own," WIS News 10 reported.

But not everyone agrees. "Statewide, they get a 6% on the dollar competitive advantage on every purchase," said small business leader Brian Flynn, "And most of these online retailers make so many sales that they can offer free shipping. If you ask any small business owner out there, they're going to say they're getting hurt."


The digital edition of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has sold one million copies "in what is believed to be a first for an e-book," the New York Times reported, adding that the combined digital sales for the Millennium Trilogy are currently more than three million copies and "selling at a clip of more than 500,000 copies a month in all formats."


A book fair held in Cairo's now iconic Tahrir square recently brought a "new dawn for publishing in Egypt," BBC News reported. In January, the Cairo Book Fair had to be canceled (Shelf Awareness, February 1, 2011) as the revolution gained momentum, but the Tahrir Book Fair, organized by the American University in Cairo Press, "will have major impact on new literature across the Middle East."

"Writers and poets have been inspired," said Yasmine el Dorghamy, an Egyptian publisher and founder of the magazine Egypt Heritage Review. "Indeed these events don't just happen suddenly. It is like an engine that needs to be warmed up. It's writing that pushed the people out [on to the streets] and vice versa.... Now we can say whatever we want, we can publish whatever we want."

Trevor Naylor, associate director of the American University in Cairo Press Bookstore, observed, "Almost every aspect of daily life, whether selling books or just normal conversation, has a revolutionary flavor to it. It completely dominates all thinking and creative output at the moment.... The whole of the Middle East is a creative writing center. If everybody is able to express their own voice in their writing then I think there will be a great cultural interchange."


Holly Wallace, a founder of Menasha Ridge Press, died last Friday of complications from abdominal surgery. She was 56.

Wallace was the press's national sales manager during the 1980s. She was diagnosed in her early 20s with rheumatoid arthritis and appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 1987 as an advocate for those with the disease. Bob Sehlinger, publisher and a founder of Menasha Ridge Press, said that "no one embraced life more, or lived it more fully than Holly Wallace. Her courage and positive attitude in the face of great adversity were an inspiration for all who knew her."


Bookselling This Week explored the gastronomic wonders of indie bookstores that "have added food products to the mix.... Whether they view the products as a great gift item, an opportunity to sell locally sourced goods, or to strengthen community ties, booksellers are selling food with great success."

"It's such a great gift item," said Kenny Sarfin, owner of Books & Greetings, Northvale, N.J. "If you're getting someone a book about Italy, throw in some pasta. If your'e getting a kid's book for a birthday party, why not add some candy?"

Readers' Books, Sonoma, Calif., sells organic farm fresh eggs. "People just love those eggs," said co-owner Andy Weinberger. "It's such a huge hit. We have a list of people we call when they arrive, and they're gone in a day."

Harvey Finkel, owner of Clinton Book Shop, Clinton, N.J., is soliciting recipes from customers for a bookstore cookbook. "It's a fun thing to do, it gets people involved, and maybe we can make a little bit of money for the store, too.... It's a great community building event. We all have to eat. A lot of people love food, and we know people love books. It's a great connection. Do it!"


Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro, Northville, Mich., is preparing numerous events to celebrate next week's release of the movie Scream 4, parts of which were shot in the bookshop. Co-owners Dan and Kathy Comaianni are "inviting the community to tour the store, which is being set up with a variety of props that were used in filming the scene where Gale Weathers and Sidney Prescott, the characters played by [Courteney] Cox and [Neve] Campbell, meet for the first time in 10 years for a book signing," the Detroit Free Press reported.


Cool idea of the day: Last Saturday, the staff at Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Ga., went barefoot for One Day Without Shoes, sponsored by Toms Shoes to raise awareness about the millions of children forced to go barefoot, Bookselling This Week reported.

"Since this is largely a children's issue, a children's bookstore seems as good of place as any to do this," said co-owner Dave Shallenberger, who once served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia.

In addition to a special storytime, the bookstore offered barefoot customers a 1% discount per toe. "This inspired a number of people to take off shoes and socks at the counter," he added.


Bella as a vampire and in her wedding dress. Entertainment Weekly featured a pair of images from Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide, which will be released April 12.  


Flavorwire showcased 10 Delicious Memoirs from Chefs, noting that during the "past few years, we’ve watched 'foodie' culture explode into prime time, elevating many chefs to celebrity status. It's no wonder, then, that the chef memoir has become as much of an art form as cooking itself."


This week's choices for NPR's What We're Reading series include No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf by Carolyn Burke, Bossypants by Tina Fey, A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant and Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness.


Book trailer of the day: If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster (NAL), the humorist and memoirist's first novel.


Under a new partnership, Bowker is providing its new manuscript submissions service to the 3,000 members of the Independent Book Publishers Association, giving them access to an online book proposal site and a way to review unsolicited manuscripts online.

On the service, a prospective author uploads a book proposal and sample materials as well as information about the proposal's subject category, topic, the writer's background and publishing history, a book synopsis and writing sample.  

IBPA president Florrie Kichler said, "Publishers are continuously overwhelmed and interrupted with unsolicited manuscripts that don't match their interests. applies a proven method for addressing this issue, allowing publishers to review book proposals in an efficient, time-saving manner."


Effective this month, Radical Publishing's graphic novel titles and products will be distributed to bookstores, mass market merchandisers, libraries and other outlets worldwide by Diamond Book Distributors. The deal begins with previous backlist titles and new frontlist for the book market with June releases.

Founded in 2008 and focusing on character-driven mythological or genre-based stories, many of which are developed with an eye on the film industry, Radical Publishing has been distributed by Random House and was earlier distributed by Diamond. Among its titles are Hercules, Aladdin: Legacy of the Lost, Earp: Saints for Sinners, Legends: the Enchanted and Caliber.


Chronicle Books: Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

Chuck Palahniuk, Easter Bunny?

A few weeks ago, bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk sent 50 Easter baskets to independent booksellers around the country hoping they'd love and then handsell a memoir that was part of the package, The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books). Both authors are part of a Portland, Ore., writing group that also includes Chelsea Cain (Evil at Heart), who wrote the introduction to Yukavitch's book.

When Tattered Cover's book buyer Cathy Langer returned from vacation two weeks ago, she stumbled upon Palahniuk's Easter basket (which was really a box) in an enormous pile of stuff. It got her immediate attention--"because it was from Chuck, and because Chuck's boxes are always packed with interesting things," she said. The last one he sent, for his most recent novel, included a rubber snake, which graced Langer's computer for months.

"Then I saw it was a Hawthorne title, and was even happier because they publish wonderful, beautiful books and don't have the kind of resources that big publishers do that catch buyer's attention in a loud and silly way," Langer added.

Touched by Palahniuk's generosity--and some candy in the box--Langer read the enclosed book, which made her cry. "And I'm not a crier," she added. For a day she issued a "Chronology of Water challenge" to anyone who came near her office: "Read Chelsea Cain's intro and read the first page and I defy you not to be utterly hooked." The challenge worked. Then Langer started e-mailing other booksellers about the book.

Palahniuk's box also enticed Kelly Estep, manager of Carmichael's Books in Louisville, Ky., to read The Chronology of Water right away. She, too, is now a devoted handseller of the title. Speaking of Palahniuk, she said, "I think it's great that he is trying to push people he believes in into the world of independent booksellers who can do something with their books."

The box undoubtedly helped sell a book that Hawthorne publisher Rhonda Hughes called "not your mother's memoir." For one, The Chronology of Water opens with the birth of Yuknavitch's dead child. Then she delves into her abusive childhood, bisexual promiscuity, drug abuse and many jobs, from fieldhand to stripping. And the cover features a bare nipple--the author's--but the trade paperback has a tasteful bellyband around it so the book can be placed face-out without offending the easily offendable. Booksellers who have read it agree that The Chronology of Water is powerful and beautifully written--even the tough parts.

The effort is helping: Hawthorne has already shipped its 4,000-copy first printing and has gone back to press. "The indies are just brewing," said Hughes. Hawthorne is distributed by Publishers Group West.

"The Easter boxes are part of my on-going rebellion against all things electronic," said Palahniuk. He called them friendly "bombs" sent out to surprise people and make them feel like being in the "Weather Underground/Santa's Workshop." He and Yuknavitch packed the Chronology of Water boxes together in Palahniuk's kitchen, which was all "halogen lights on neon-colored Peeps."

"A writer feels so helpless once the book is printed," Palahniuk said. "So introducing the book to booksellers, in a goofy way, beats passively sitting in terror, watching movies and fretting."

This isn't Palahniuk's first effort on behalf of another author. In 2007, he aggressively helped promote another Hawthorne title, Clown Girl by Monica Drake (who is also part of that Portland writers group). Drake introduced her publisher to Yuknavitch.

Aside from teaching writing, Yuknavitch runs Chiasmus, a publishing, film and arts company, with her husband. She was one of the writers who created the collaborative novel Caverns in Ken Kesey's graduate writing class at the University of Oregon; it was published by Viking in 1990.--Bridget Kinsella


Ingram Booklove: An Exclusive Rewards Program for Indie Booksellers

BookExpo America: Editors Buzz Forums

BookExpo America has named its selections for the Editors Buzz Forums. This year, BEA will present three separate panels, including Editors Buzz (adult) on Monday, May 23, at 4:30 p.m.; YA Editors Buzz on Tuesday, May 24, at 2 p.m.; and Middle Grade Editors Buzz on Wednesday, May 25, at 2 p.m. The programs and selections for the Buzz Forums are:

BEA Editors Buzz

  • Michael Pietsch, v-p & publisher, Little, Brown, with The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbachand
  • Alison Callahan, executive editor, Doubleday, with The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Denise Roy, senior editor, Dutton, with The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson  
  • Kathy Pories, senior editor, Algonquin, with Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
  • Alane Salierno Mason, v-p & senior editor, Norton, with Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
  • Jenna Johnson, senior editor, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with We the Animals by Justin Torres

BEA YA Editors Buzz

  • Courtney Bongiolatti, editor, S&S Children's Publishing, with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • Margret Raymo, senior executive editor, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with Au Revoir Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
  • Alvina Ling, executive editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, with Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Turner
  • Susan Chang, senior editor, Tor & Forge Books/ Macmillan, with Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham
  • Erica Sussman, senior editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books, with The Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

BEA Middle Grade Editors Buzz

  • Lisa Abrams, editor, S&S Children's Publishing, with The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
  • Donna Bray, v-p & co-publisher Balzer & Bray, with Wildwood by Colin Meloy
  • Lisa A. Sandell, executive editor, Scholastic Press, with Icefall by Matthew Kirby
  • Jennifer Besser, v-p & publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, with Apothecary by Maile Meloy
  • Jim Thomas, editorial director, Random House Children’s Books, The Ashtown Burials #1: The Dragons Tooth by N.D. Wilson


Berkley Books: Harlem Sunset (A Harlem Renaissance Mystery) by Nekesa Afia

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Steven Levy on Google

Today on NPR's Here & Now: Steven Levy, author of In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives (Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781416596585).


Today on the Glenn Beck Show: John Hagee, author of Can America Survive?: Startling Revelations and Promises of Hope (Howard Books, $14.99, 9781439190562).


Tomorrow on Fox & Friends: Dr. Anthony Youn, author of In Stitches (Gallery, $23, 9781451608441).


Television: Too Big to Fail

Too Big to Fail, based on the book by Andrew Ross Sorkin, is scheduled to premiere on HBO May 23, reported. The Curtis Hanson-directed movie stars William Hurt, Edward Asner, Billy Crudup, Paul Giamatti, Topher Grace, Matthew Modine, Cynthia Nixon, Michael O'Keefe, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub and James Woods.


Movie: Bardem as Roland Deschain?

Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Biutiful) is "close to sealing his deal" with Universal Pictures to play Roland Deschain, the gunslinger in Stephen King's Dark Tower series, reported. The "mammoth adaptation" of King's seven-novel series will span three movies and a limited run TV series between each film. Director Ron Howard is scheduled to begin production on the first film in September. called Bardem "a strong match to play the last living member of a knightly order of gunslingers" and noted that the deal is so close to being signed that "Howard has begun meeting with other actors to cast the roles around Bardem. It's a complex deal, almost unprecedented, because it calls for Bardem to star in the feature film and the TV component."


Books & Authors

Awards: Indies Choice & E.B. White Read-Aloud Winners

The American Booksellers Association announced the winners of this year's Indies Choice and E.B. White Read-Aloud awards, which were selected by the owners and staff at member stores, Bookselling This Week reported.

"In the first year that all ABA member booksellers had the opportunity to vote for both the Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, the result is an outstanding list of winners that reflect the types of books independent bookstores champion best," said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. "We look forward to saluting all of the winners and honor recipients at the Celebration of Bookselling Author Awards Luncheon in May at BEA."

Indies Choice Book of the Year Awards
Adult fiction: Room by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown)
Adult nonfiction: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
Adult debut: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly Press and El León Literary Arts)
Young adult: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)

E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards
Middle reader: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books)
Picture book: Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Laurie Halse Anderson was named Most Engaging Author "for her exceptional involvement and responsiveness during in-store appearances and for having a strong sense of the importance of indie booksellers to their local communities." Booksellers also inducted four of their all-time favorites into the Indies Choice Book Awards Picture Book Hall of Fame:

Corduroy by Don Freeman (Viking)
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel)

All of the Indies Choice and E.B. White award winners and honor recipients have been invited to the Celebration of Bookselling Author Awards Luncheon, which will be take place Tuesday, May 24, at BEA. 


Book Brahmin: Philip Connors

Philip Connors is the author of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout, out from Ecco/HarperCollins April 5, 2011. His essays and reviews have appeared in n+1, Harper's, the Nation, the Paris Review and the London Review of Books. For nearly a decade he has worked as a fire lookout in New Mexico's Gila National Forest. Watch the video for Fire Season here.


On your nightstand now:

I just visited a cool little bookstore in Truth or Consequences, N.M.--Black Cat Books--and loaded up on used paperbacks. Among them: The Liars Club by Mary Karr (yes, I'm coming to it awfully late); The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin (her classic about the California desert); and The River Why by David James Duncan (which my friends from the Northwest tell me is great). I also just finished two others: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, which offers the incomparably creepy thrill of watching a regular guy become ensnared in a murder plot almost against his will, and before that John Jeremiah Sullivan's Blood Horses, a beautiful meditation on his sportswriter father and the allure of horse racing.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys series and Louis L'Amour's westerns. Crime-solving and frontier-living: the secret thrills of many an asthmatic, bookish boy.

Your top five authors:

Now that's just impossible. To narrow it down, how about living American writers of prose: Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, Denis Johnson and Cormac McCarthy.

Book you've faked reading:

The Bible.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I'm an evangelist for a lot of books--among novels, Blood Meridian and Housekeeping are favorites--but lately the writer I've been championing to anyone who will listen is Ellen Meloy. She died an untimely death in 2004 with four books to her credit: Raven's Exile, The Last Cheater's Waltz, The Anthropology of Turquoise and Eating Stone. They're all beautiful meditations on humanity's relationship to the wild, yet they never sermonize. She has a charming sense of humor, very self-deprecating, and an unerring eye for absurdity and paradox. She's a scandalously under-known treasure of American letters. The word must be spread.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I can't think of one. I have bought a book in spite of its cover, though: most recently the paperback of The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I found deeply uninspiring. The cover, that is. The book is fantastic.

Book that changed your life:

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. I read it on a train ride from Seattle to Minneapolis after hitchhiking in the opposite direction. Before then I'd thought about transferring to the University of Montana and abandoning print journalism for fiction writing, and that book sealed the deal. Except, as it turned out, I failed at writing fiction and stumbled into a short-lived career in print journalism to satisfy the student-loan collectors. The book also proved weirdly prophetic when my younger brother, as does the younger brother in the title novella, died a violent death at a very young age. The book both foreshadowed my brother's death and consoled me for it. I think it saved my life--and I don't say that lightly.

Favorite line from a book:

I've kept a commonplace book for 15 years, so I've written down a thousand lines I like. But the one I've turned to as inspiration for my next book comes from E.M. Cioran: "Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone."

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

Love in the Time of Cholera by Garcia Marquez. Rarely has a book so absorbed me in a fictional world.


Book Review

Book Review: Annoying

Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman (Wiley, $25.95 Hardcover, 9780470638699, April 19, 2011)

"Just ignore it," we all have been told when we've expressed annoyance at bad smells, screaming sirens, inane cell phone "halfalogues" and frustrating traffic jams. Yet try as we might, we can't, and, what's more, the glib advice doesn't help at all. Are we so weak, stubborn or oversensitive that we are driven crazy by these petty intrusions into the routines our daily lives? Not really, say science reporters Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman as they offer some very interesting findings from fields as diverse as cultural anthropology, genetics, brain chemistry and treatment of Huntington's disease.

"I would say annoyance is the low level of anger, with rage being on the extreme end," psychologist Thomas Denson tells Palca and Lichtman who note that scientists have long concentrated on the sexier end of the anger/rage spectrum. Neuroscientists looking at the dorsal anterior cingualte cortex have observed increased blood flow when a subject is angered, and Palca and Lichtman suspect that this area of the brain may prove to be the gateway to annoyance. But why does that area of the brain become perturbed when the stranger next to us starts yakking on a cell phone about being on the bus?

Anthropologists studying the residents of Ifaluk, a small island in Micronesia, have noted that nobody there seemed to be annoyed about anything, and explain that kind of heaven with the culture's universal agreement to defuse negative emotions. Although we are a long way from adopting the Ifaluk model in our diverse culture, scattered American researchers have found that part of our annoyance may be in our heads--but don't blame yourself, blame evolution.

Bad smells and infuriating noises serve us alerts. That skunk smell or food gone bad are, in fact, protecting us (hydrogen sulfides, it turns out, are our allies, not our enemies). As Palca and Lichtman note, "they encourage us to avoid things that are bad for us... the feeling is usually a warning that in higher doses, these compounds won't simply annoy you, they will hurt you." As for irritating people, bad leaders and obnoxious bosses, personality psychologist Robert Hogan provides a route into understanding what pushes our buttons. He has developed a very useful Annoying Inventory (including indexes on irritability, arrogance and pickiness--oh, do we recognize these!) that lead Palca and Lichtman to conclude that "an annoying person is pretty neurotic, pretty impulsive and quite outgoing and talkative... a poorly adjusted extrovert," and, unfortunately, has no idea he or she is annoying. Try to ignore it. --John McFarland

Shelf-Talker: An insightful, lively and informative discussion about why we are so easily annoyed--you'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll be less annoyed.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: A Month for the Casual Reader of Poems

I am a casual reader of poetry. I read the poems I want to read, and take from them what I can. The poems I love have a precision and clarity that I can find in no other art form. I don't know many casual readers of poetry. I have several friends and colleagues who are dedicated readers of poetry; friends who are poets; friends who are poets and dedicated readers of poetry. While I may examine the cracks and seams of a well-crafted poem, as I might look at the brush strokes of a painting up close, they can see through those cracks and seams and tell me how the poem was made. I admire their knowledge and focus and insight, but do not envy them.   

The sports world is always chasing after the "casual fan," that fickle person who has little interest in a particular sport or team until something magic--Tiger Woods in his prime, for example--happens and even non-fans become obsessed. Poetry has a hard time attracting casual fans, though I don't think that's because poetry hasn't found its Tiger Woods yet. Sometimes I wonder if poetry even wants casual fans. You'd have to ask poetry that question.

Every April, National Poetry Month appears to have modest success with casual readers of poems, though cynics inevitably ask whether the poetic attention span of the reading public is longer than 30 days. But I'd like to think there is considerable potential for attracting more casual poetry readers, people who might not be in shape to hike poetry's sometimes forbidding summits, but would find pleasure strolling through a collection now and then.

In thinking this week about my life as a casual poetry reader, I suddenly wondered how the last few books of poetry had managed to enter my house. I don't buy poetry to make some kind of statement, and I don't buy poetry in April only, so this seems like an appropriate question to ask:

Where do my poetry books come from?  

I think poetry must
I think it must
Stay open all night
In beautiful cellars

The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions) is a book I coveted for a long time, but resisted buying for myself. Late last year, my wife bought it for me as a gift and ever since I've been opening the 1,000-page book at random and reading whatever I find there. Like this:

Why not more pictures? Why not more rhythms, melody, etc.? All suitable questions to be answered some other time. The realm of spirit is two doors down the hall. There you can obtain more soul than you are ready to cope with, Buster.

Currently I'm reading Seamus Heaney's Human Chain (FSG), which I purchased for my wife last month. Wandering around a bookstore, I saw it on display and recalled her saying that she'd like to read it. The book just followed me home. Now she's read Human Chain and it's my turn, part of a ceremony that is, as you know so well, one of the many wonders of having a good book in your house--the gift for someone else becomes a gift to you as well. A sampling of Heaney:

A great one has put faith in "meaning"
That runs through space like a word
Screaming and protesting, another in
"Poet's imaginings

And memories of love":
Mine for now I put
In steady-handedness maintained
In books against its vanishing.

The most recent collection to enter this house is a copy of Wendell Berry's Leavings (Counterpoint) that was sent to me. I've thumbed through it, and will read more closely soon. Even during that initial peek, however, I found treasure. This often happens. Thumbing through a poetry collection is like strolling through a museum, knowing there will be a work of art that compels you to pay attention. Berry stopped me here:

Poem, do not raise your voice.
Be a whisper that says "There!"
where the stream speaks to itself
of the deep rock of the hill
it has carved its way down to
in flowing over them, "There!"

What I don't know about poetry could fill a book, a library. What I do know, however, is that there is a place for the casual reader of poetry in this world. There!--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)



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