Shelf Awareness for Friday, August 5, 2011

Little Brown and Company: A Line in the Sand by Kevin Powers

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

Ballantine Books: The Second Ending by Michelle Hoffman

Tor Books: One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

Henry Holt & Company: Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

Quotation of the Day

Good Advice: Live with More Books than You Read

"He should live with more books than he reads, with a penumbra of unread pages, of which he knows the general character and content, fluttering round him. This is the purpose of libraries.... It is also the purpose of good bookshops, both new and secondhand, of which there are still some, and would that there were more. A bookshop is not like a railway booking-office which one approaches knowing what one wants. One should enter it vaguely, almost in a dream, and allow what is there freely to attract and influence the eye.

"To walk the rounds of the bookshops, dipping in as curiosity dictates, should be an afternoon's entertainment. Feel no shyness or compunction in taking it. Bookshops exist to provide it; and the booksellers welcome it, knowing how it will end."

--Economist John Maynard Keynes, as quoted in a Canberra Times piece headlined "Bookshops about more than just purchasing."

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


Notes: Borders Exec Team 'Terminated'; Sales Tax Update

Borders has "terminated" its senior executive team. Company President Mike Edwards and CFO Scott Henry were dismissed effective July 29, according to an SEC filing. Holly Felder Etlin, managing director of AlixPartners--which has been providing financial restructuring and bankruptcy reorganization advisory services to Borders--was appointed temporary company president. Glen Tomaszewski, Borders v-p, chief accounting officer and controller, will serve as treasurer.


In this month's letter to members, ABA CEO Oren Teicher focused on the fight for e-fairness with an update on the current state of the online sales tax issue nationally. Teicher wrote that a "compelling indication of the importance" of legislative wins in Arkansas, Connecticut, and California "is the extensive resources that opponents of e-fairness employ to fight the passage of affiliate nexus legislation. That alone underscores that every time a state enacts sales tax fairness legislation, we have accomplished a great deal. Despite the short-term delay in sales tax collection in some states, each victory moves us closer to the tipping point where these online retailers will no longer be able to afford to fire their affiliates and will collect sales tax."


"It's a scene straight out of the Bible --'And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb'--only in Arizona's version the wolf and lamb are taking on an 800-pound gorilla." The Republic invoked this biblical analogy to describe a recent meeting about the state's online sales tax issue that included indie businesses and some unlikely allies.

"It seemed odd, at first, to be on the same side of the table with folks from Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and Best Buy," said Gayle Shanks of Changing Hands bookstore, Tempe. "But small businesses like ours have this thing in common with the big-box stores. We're all long-time Arizona businesses and the state is working against us by siding with an Internet giant like Amazon."


BookSmart, Morgan Hill, Calif., will open a new branch at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas this fall. Colleen Finegan Bailey, the center’s executive director, told the Monterey County Weekly that selecting an indie for the space was "both a response to the impending closure of Sand City's Borders, and a nod to the center's community-oriented vision."

"The big-box model of bookstores is going away, but the smaller, independent bookstore model is catching on," she added. "The store will offer not just Steinbeck books, but general-interest books that meet the needs of the Salinas community."

BookSmart's co-owners Brad Jones and Cinda Meister "were impressed by the Steinbeck Center and the Oldtown Salinas Association at a July 28 business mixer," the Weekly noted. "I heard, 'How can everybody in this room help you succeed?' That's something I've never heard spoken that way before," said Jones.


Rapid City, S.D., will be getting a new independent bookstore at 510 Main St. on a block that is in the process of being transformed "into a locally owned shopping and dining destination," the Journal reported, adding that the bookstore, "whose owner has not yet been selected from a handful of proposals, will have a spiral staircase leading to an upper mezzanine lined with bookshelves."


Shop local video of the day: Bookselling This Week featured Truepix.TV's clever video highlighting businesses in downtown Dickson, Tenn., including Reading Rock Books.

"I think it’s really good at showing exactly how the system works and why it's important to shop local," said Laura Hill, co-owner of the bookstore. "A lot of people don’t realize that it’s not just that one local business they’re supporting, but all of them. So this really drives that home. Any illustration of that is helpful, I think."


How can booksellers turn a scan into a sale? Bookselling This Week reported that "dealing with customers who are obviously browsing the store to buy elsewhere can be tricky," but several indies are trying alternatives to steer customers "toward the cash wrap instead of the door."

Carole Horne of Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., mentioned the shop's "Don't Be an iPhoney" video and said, "We also have this large sign in the store and a smaller copy on the door: 'Find it here. Buy it here. Keep us here.' "

Tattered Cover Bookstore
, Denver, Colo., posts fliers with scannable codes, which link to the store's website. "We have QR codes all over the stores to say, 'Hint hint, do your buying here.' but so far don’t have official signs or policies," said Cathy Langer.


In Sri Lanka, a shoplifter really had the book thrown at him. The Daily Mirror reported that a man who pleaded guilty to stealing four books from the Lake House Bookshop was sentenced to 26 months "rigorous imprisonment" by the Colombo Fort Magistrate.


Fast Company showcased its "Leadership Hall of Fame: The Best Business Autobiographies," noting that "many entrepreneurs and leaders come and go without passing on what made them great. But there have been others who decided to pick up a pen, sit at a typewriter, or dictate into a recorder.... here is a list of those remarkable businessmen and women who decided to tell their life's story and impart their wisdom, from Ash to Welch."


The Mary Sue website showcased 10 Action Librarians, noting that despite the traditional stereotypes for the profession, "there are plenty of kick ass librarians in fiction!... This week's Grid is dedicated to the runners up, and to the reference librarian who didn't bat an eye when I asked her where I could find books on Slavic Folklore, prison tattoos, and Marine snipers (preferably autobiographies)."


The first installment of a new Guardian series called "overlooked classics of American literature" reconsidered Thomas Berger's 1983 novel The Feud.  


In her book art, Cara Barer addresses "the ephemeral and fragile nature in which we now obtain knowledge, and the future of books." Barer also reassured concerned book lovers that "no important books have been injured during the making of any of these photographs."


"What is the name of the merchant and moneylender who leads Emma Bovary into hopelessly deep debt?" It may be the perfect time to take the Guardian's latest quiz: debt in literature.

And USA Today invited readers to test their "knowledge of all things Catch-22" during the 50th anniversary year of Joseph Heller's novel.


Buzzfeed shared its discovery of the "most insane Amazon author bio ever"--Thurgood Meddlethorp.


Book trailer of the day: VOLT ink.: Recipes, Stories, Brothers by Top Chefs Bryan Voltaggio and Michael Voltaggio (Weldon Owen), which will be served up in October.

Texas Bookman Presents Texas Remainder Expo

General Retail Sales: July Meets Expectations, with Reservations

Retail sales in July indicate "the retail economy is locked on two tracks: one for businesses that cater to the well-to-do, and the other for everyone else," the New York Times reported.

Thomson Reuters said sales at stores it tracks rose 4.4%, with expensive stores showing strong sales figures while "middle- and low-end stores were largely dependent on marked-down summer clothes for their increases." Saks Fifth Avenue was up 15.6%, compared with analyst predictions of 8.5%, while Nordstrom gained 6.6% and Neiman Marcus 7.7%.

"There’s definitely been a split," said Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics.

The Wall Street Journal noted that "it is unlikely any retailer can expect a completely smooth ride ahead. During July, gas prices remained elevated, home prices stayed near their lows, unemployment rose and the debt-ceiling debate in Washington had some negative impact late in the month."

"All of this has put the consumer in a tenuous mood going into the back-to-school season," said analyst Patrick McKeever of MKM Partners.

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

Obituary: William Sleator

William Sleator, the author of more than 30 books for young people, died on Tuesday in Thailand. He was 66. Born in Maryland and raised just outside of St. Louis, Mo., he was known for his thought-provoking, often disturbing science fiction novels. His first book, The Angry Moon, illustrated by his friend Blair Lent, received a 1971 Caldecott Honor, but Sleator found even greater acclaim with his novel House of Stairs (1974), named one of the 100 Best Books for Teens by the American Library Association. He went on to publish many acclaimed novels, including Interstellar Pig (1984) and Singularity (1985), and in 1993, Oddballs, a collection of autobiographical stories about growing up outside St. Louis in a family of brilliant eccentrics. Sleator explored his fascination with Thai culture, and its embrace of the beautiful and the grotesque, in The Spirit House. His final book, The Phantom Limb, will be published in October by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams.


Tor Books: One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Grant Morrison on NPR's All Things Considered

Tomorrow on NPR's All Things Considered: Grant Morrison, author of Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human (Spiegel & Grau, $28, 9781400069125).


G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams

Movie Trailer: Killer Elite

A trailer has been released for Killer Elite, adapted from the novel The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes and directed by Gary McKendry. The movie, which stars Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro, will open September 23.


Movie: Branagh Directing Guernsey?

Variety reported that Fox 2000 "is circling" Kenneth Branagh to direct The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, based on the novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. The movie, which is being produced by Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan (owner of Books & Books in Miami) from a script by Dan Roos, is expected to begin production in the spring.


Books & Authors

Awards: Canadian Culinary Books Shortlists

Finalists have been named for this year’s Canadian Culinary Book Awards, sponsored by Cuisine Canada and the University of Guelph, Quillblog reported. Category winners will be announced November 7 at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.


Book Brahmin: Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline has worked as a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk and tech support drone. He eventually threw aside those promising career paths to express his love of pop culture full time as a spoken-word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film Fanboys, much to his surprise, became a cult phenomenon. Cline lives in Austin, Tex., with his wife, daughter and a large collection of classic video games. Ready Player One (Crown, August 16, 2011) is his first novel. 

On your nightstand now: The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood by Nicholas Meyer. Mr. Meyer is one of my heroes.

Favorite book when you were a child:

James and the Giant Peach. Or maybe Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I devoured everything I could find by Roald Dahl.

Your top five authors:

Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Neal Stephenson, Richard K. Morgan and Jonathan Tropper. They all astound and inspire me.

Book you've faked reading:

The Bible. That's how I survived so many years of Sunday School.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Old Man's War by John Scalzi.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Amazing Spider-Man #408 with the variant cover. Very rare.

Book that changed your life:

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook. Profoundly.

Favorite line from a book:

"They would take their software out and race it in the black desert of the electronic night." --Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

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

Replay by Ken Grimwood. I found it impossible to put down.



Book Review

Book Review: Low Town

Low Town by Daniel Polansky (Doubleday, $25.95 hardcover, 9780385534468, August 16, 2011)

When you think of Low Town, picture the Baltimore of The Wire: a city where the criminal subculture has evolved not just into a shadow economy, but a shadow society, flourishing under the surface of official "law and order." This is the world of the Warden, a drug dealer who lives in a grubby room above a bar owned by one of his few friends. He's carved out a bit of territory for himself, and if he needs to get his hands dirty to protect it from overeager competitors, he'll do it without thinking twice. But he's not just a brutal thug, and when a young girl is kidnapped and murdered in his neighborhood, the Warden decides to hunt down the killer--he knows exactly how incompetent the city's investigators are, having been one himself before he was booted off the force in disgrace.

So far, this all sounds like the stuff of a fairly standard urban thriller, but Daniel Polansky has added a twist: Low Town is a dark inversion of a swashbuckling fantasy world--more advanced than medieval society but not quite modern--where magic is real. Instead of forensic investigators, for example, the guard has "scryers" who glean psychic impressions off the dead bodies. Although the Warden is actually able to solve the dead girl's murder rather quickly, it involves a demonic force that causes the law to shut the case down and order him to keep his trap shut. Then another child goes missing, and the guard is back to put the squeeze on the Warden, who will have to see the case all the way through this time.

Polansky's imaginary city is richly layered in history and diverse cultures, but with obvious resonances to our world; he doesn't even bother trying very hard to obscure the parallels between his Kirentown and a real-life Chinatown. Those similarities help to hook the reader into the story, which gradually turns into the type of noir narrative where everything and everyone is tainted by corruption, the elite even more so than the so-called underclasses. Meanwhile, solving these murders forces the Warden to confront the life he left behind, which spurs its own set of emotional aftershocks.... Polansky ties all these threads together with a steadfast commitment to the downbeat noir sensibility, while leaving room for a sequel if readers' interest warrants. --Ron Hogan

Shelf Talker: Fantasy fans may be more likely than mystery fans to give Polansky's mashup a try, but both genres benefit from his carefully calibrated integration of their tropes and themes.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Booking Return Passage from OP to PFP

I often write about indie booksellers in this space; about men and women, young as well as not-so-young, who think the most important thing they could do with their professional lives is to own or work in a bookshop. That this is also perhaps the least practical option is precisely what makes the choice intriguing to me. There is a similar pattern of admirably illogical behavior in publishing. Niche indie presses are finding ways to fill the gaps created by an evolving (or, depending upon your current state of mind, devolving) book industry.

Why would anyone start a small press? For Peter Sarno, founder of PFP Publishing, the answer came from a realization that many excellent books were disappearing into the out of print wilderness. As a literature instructor at UMASS, he regularly assigned Roland Merullo's Revere Beach Elegy: A Memoir of Home & Beyond, which had been recommended to him by author and publisher Askold Melnyczuk.

"The essays in that collection are powerful, and a few--especially 'What A Father Leaves'--move me to tears. This book resonated with students semester in and semester out. And, for some reason, it seemed to especially strike those who were first generation--no matter what their nationality; it’s a work that is able to communicate across generations reaching older and younger students alike."

Last fall, Sarno discovered the college bookstore could no longer order the book because it was OP. He contacted Merullo to inquire about the rights. "When they reverted back to him, I talked him into allowing me to issue a print version. During this process, he asked me about the possibility of an e-book version and I prepared Kindle, NookBook and iBook versions of Elegy," Sarno said.

PFP has now published new editions of three other Merullo novels and Melnyczuk's What Is Told, all of which were OP. Future plans call for the biblio-resurrection of Melnyczuk's Ambassador of the Dead as well as works by Elizabeth Searle and Craig Nova.

Melnyczuk observed that PFP's mission "of resurrecting out of print volumes as e-books, with an occasional print-on-demand run of--what to call them? p-books?--strikes me as the kind of innovative publishing move that stands a good chance of prospering inside the complex environment of the present moment. As a publisher, he is every writer's dream: engaged, meticulous, direct, responsible, and passionate about his work. Every step of the process of working with Peter has been a delight. I wish the same good fortune on my fellow writers."

A limited number of new titles is also planned. According to Sarno, "We'll have published at least two new books before the year is out. But for now, I'd have to say the focus will remain out of print books or those books that are still in print but do not have an electronic version available."

His vision of a publisher's mission is deeply rooted in his own reading life: "Starting with a novella I found in Stone Soup Books in Camden, Maine, I fell in love with the work of Andre Dubus, eventually getting my hands on all his stuff--fiction and nonfiction alike. And, I thought, why is it that I didn't know him, hadn't been introduced to his work before? So I assigned his books to my students, several of whom would end up choosing Dubus as the focus of their final projects. Later I found out via Ted Delaney's documentary The Times Were Never So Bad and other sources how David Godine was the first to take a chance on Dubus and how Andre remained loyal to him when the big houses came calling.

"It helped me to think of publishing in a different way--with a small 'p'. And, I thought of the achievements of Godine, Askold, Joe Torra, Bill Corbett and others, realizing the noble and important efforts publishers make--spreading the word, supporting the artists. If it weren't for Godine Publishing (and an independent bookstore in Maine), I wouldn't have 'discovered' Dubus. If it weren’t for Askold, I wouldn't have read Merullo."

Melnyczuk reflected on what this new life for his novels means to him as a writer: "You send a book into the world like a parent packing a kid off to college, hoping you've taught it enough survival skills, nurtured its personality and strengths enough for it to cope with the exuberant indifference of a busy world. And so it goes off, sending you notices now and again--the dean's list here, a big F there. Eventually it just disappears inside the context of its own life and fate, while you tend to the needy new brood.

"But, I've discovered, if you're really lucky, and more importantly, if your book has the good karma to cross paths with a Peter Sarno, it might surprise in your weather-beaten days, and just when you're sure its long forgotten all you've done for it, when you have begun to doubt it ever existed as more than an image on Google, a number on Amazon, suddenly, there it is, dimensional and glossy in your hands. A reunion with the prodigal first book seems especially delicious and gratifying. And it wouldn't have, couldn't have happened with the intervention of a visionary like Sarno, who sees not simply the decline of one medium, but the collaborative rise of two." --Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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