Shelf Awareness for Thursday, January 19, 2012


Penguin Press: How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch

Celadon Books: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Anthony Bourdain/Ecco: Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison by Jason Rezaian

Grove Press: Solitary by Albert Woodfox

Quotation of the Day

Indie Bookseller Looks Forward to an 'Even More Exciting' Year

"One thing that we all observed was how often customers told us they were choosing to shop with us to support an independent bookstore and local business. While we often receive comments like these, the staff was struck by their frequency and the apparent conviction behind them....

"It is clear that the rumors of the demise of independent bookstores have been greatly exaggerated. Entrepreneurs continue to enter the industry, reimagining how the printed word is distributed to passionate readers. It has been an exciting year, but we promise you that the coming year will be even more exciting."

--Jeff Mayersohn, owner of the Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., in a letter to customers


 


Franklin Fixtures Store of the Month: Story & Song


News

Winter Institute 7: Skip Prichard's Five Ifs

Leading off with a humorous story about a butcher whose talented dog could navigate the complicated human world on its own--but the butcher was disappointed the pooch kept forgetting its house keys--Skip Prichard, president and CEO, Ingram Content Group, asked bookseller attendees to lower their expectations for his comments.

"Many think I arrive with a golden key to the industry," he said. "But together in this room the collective knowledge is so great." Then he invited the booksellers to share with others at their tables one thing they did in 2011 to improve their results. "Because this is really the room that has all the answers."

Prichard said he was there to listen and to facilitate. With this in mind, he offered what he called the "five if's to help change perspective." First, he proposed: "If selling books is your purpose, your store will fail." He pointed to a company that consistently turned its creative ideas into communications breakthroughs for a quarter century. This company, Prichard continued, invented grammar checkers, electronic dictionaries and even early PDAs--and still failed.

"That company was Smith Corona," he said. "They thought it was all about the typewriter. It was too narrow of a mission and the world swallowed them up." Booksellers need to know their businesses are about much more than selling books. Prichard singled out Brooklyn's Greenlight Bookstore and New Orleans' own Octavia Books as two stores that have claimed and held their identities as community builders.

Prichard's second if: "If you think it is impossible to compete in today's market, it isn't." Again, it comes back to perspective. Using a nonbook example, Prichard wondered how Richard Devos, cofounder of Amway, managed to have dinner with the donor of his transplanted heart. (Outside of a plot in "the next zombie bestseller," Prichard added.) It turns out that some transplants are of the heart and lungs together, and when a woman in the U.K. underwent that procedure, her heart became "extra," to Devos's benefit. "So, if you think something is impossible, think again."

Prichard's third if: "If you are doing the same thing tomorrow that you did yesterday, you may be in trouble." Although no one had ever gone to the moon before, astronaut Neil Armstrong noted that it was just a matter of solving two problems: how to get there and how to get back.

"It was important before you left to solve both problems," said Prichard. Faced with challenges in publishing, he noted, Ingram added 10,000 new products--to expand in gifts and in categories (e.g., art, architecture, graphic novels) not as affected by e-books as other categories. As more booksellers become publishers, Ingram is expanding its POD database, too.

The fourth if: "If you want help, it's within reach." New technologies help make that reach more powerful than ever. Once self-described as being bitter on Twitter (especially about live tweets that critiqued his speaking performances), Prichard said he has seen businesses use social media and "get their community working for them." Among his examples was Green Apple Books' recent promotion with Groupon in San Francisco.

"If all else fails," said Prichard, arriving at his fifth point, "get a New York Times bestselling author to be your partner." James Patterson was on the schedule later in the day, he added, but "Ann Patchett is taken." --Bridget Kinsella


GLOW: Henry Holt & Company: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi


Winter Institute 7: Ann Patchett's Tales of Bookselling

Ann Patchett, the bestselling author turned bookseller, began her talk to the booksellers in attendance by saying, "There is nothing I can tell you about bookselling. I want to get that off the table right now. It's ridiculous that I, who have been in business only since November, have anything to tell you. But I'm a good storyteller."

True to her word, for nearly an hour she was a great storyteller, telling an entertaining, thoughtful tale of how she learned the value of booksellers and became a bookseller herself.

Her first book tour, in 1992, which had a budget of $3,000, took her to nearly 30 cities and involved a lot of driving and changing in McDonald's before appearances ("even though I'm a vegetarian, they have the best bathrooms"). She drew few people, and her publicists told her that the point of the tour was to meet booksellers. Her two big goals were to sign stock and "to make nice with the girl behind the cash register. If I made nice to her, then she would read my book and handsell it." Many of those booksellers were either about to get married or wanted to get married, so Patchett, then a contributing editor at Bridal Guide, would "spend two hours discussing wedding plans or wishes with these women." And, in fact, they got to like her, "and they did read the book and handsold it."

By the time she went on the road for the paperback edition of Bel Canto, her tour was different: the book sold and people came to her events. "What a revelation it was to see human beings come into bookstores to buy my books!" she said.

When the two major bookstores in Nashville, Tenn., closed "through no fault of their own," suddenly, Patchett said, "I was living in a city without a bookstore." As meetings and conversations were held about opening a new store to replace the departed Borders and Davis-Kidd, she sat back and waited for someone to open a bookstore but nothing happened. She talked with a friend who founded the Dollar Store about possibly opening a bookstore herself, but he discouraged her, comparing her with a brilliant cook who thinks he or she can open a restaurant. "There's no correlation," he said.

But still no store opened, and later she talked with Michael Zibart, owner of BookPage, who introduced her to Karen Hayes, her eventual bookstore partner. Patchett and Hayes had lunch with a mutual friend, Mary Grey James. The three decided that the idea was good, but the impetus to move forward came from Patchett's book tour for State of Wonder, which was starting two weeks after the fateful lunch. If they were going to open a store, it would be a perfect thing for Patchett to promote--along with her book. They decided that even though they didn't have a plan--or even a name--Patchett would announce the opening of a new indie for Nashville.

During her many interviews on her tour, "I would say we were opening," Patchett remembered. "But I was faking it at every conceivable level." Imitating herself responding to questions, she said, "Yes, we're opening a bookstore... soon. You'll be able to come there and buy a book... soon."

She called the reaction to her announcement "incredible. From the start there was was a huge swell of excitement." The resulting publicity, too, was completely unexpected. "If I sat down with group of the most high-powered consultants in the world," she said, and asked them how to get her "onto the front page of the New York Times," they might have suggested being involved in a murder or transporting drugs. "What about opening a 2,500-sq.-ft. bookstore? Would they have advised that?"

Part of the interest came from journalists who were as sick "as we are at the barrage that books are dead, that it's all over, ebooks are taking over, let's close libraries."

"I never thought any of it through, not the good parts, not the bad parts," she continued. She knew something about bookselling from touring, but she had one quality that turned out to be a valuable skill: "I've read everything, and all my life I've been forcing books on my family and friends." Now, she said, her potential audience for recommending books is "limitless. The thrill of forcing people to read the books that I like is reason enough for me to have opened the store." One example is The All of It by Jeannette Haien, which she stacks by the cash register.

Patchett emphasized, too, that she is one of many people who doesn't use Facebook or Twitter, has never blogged or read a blog and uses a cell phone only when she travels. There are still, like her, "a lot of other people who want a book and want to talk about it" and want to go to stores that are "loving and comforting and warm and allow talk with smart people about books."

Patchett said also that she "can hardly tell what it means to me to be a spokesperson for all these people who have helped keep me in this life. I feel so evangelical about this." In fact, she continued, it's almost a relief for someone with 12 years of Catholic school education, for whom promoting one's own work is "excruciating."

Local independent bookselling is the big trend, she said. "This is where the nation is going. If you keep saying it's true, it keeps happening." She offered to help any booksellers who needed it, and said that authors are "spoiled and should do more to keep the team going."

At the end, she received a standing ovation from her fellow booksellers. --John Mutter


New Press: Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom


Winter Institute 7: Indie Renaissance

Anyone who has doubts about "the resiliency and viability of independent bookselling" should have seen the opening reception for the Winter Institute on Tuesday night, said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. "It was exhilarating. We are still here. You are still here, and I can tell you we're not going away."

Speaking to the 500 booksellers at the opening panel yesterday, Teicher put the past year in perspective by noting that booksellers left the Winter Institute in Crystal City, Va., last January "with some optimism and a sense of energy" although many people, including "some of us," thought "we were all just a bit crazy." After all, the economy was in the worst shape since the Great Depression, Borders was on the ropes and e-book sales were increasing at triple-digit rates "and many thought e-books were a market indies simply wouldn't crack."

But 2011 turned out to be "the best year many of you had," Teicher said. After a difficult first quarter, sales began to pick up, especially after Borders finally closed, so that by the week of Thanksgiving, sales at indies, as measured by BookScan, rose 15% and were up every week following that, and Google e-book sales constituted 5.2% of total e-commerce sales at IndieCommerce bookstores.

Booksellers did a variety of things to make the season happen: "You handsold, you reached out to current and new customers, you developed relationships with customers on Twitter and Facebook," Teicher said. "You worked, you worked and then you worked some more. When the final shoppers left on December 24 and you totaled up sales, you realized that all that energy and enthusiasm in Crystal City paid off."

Another measure of what Teicher called the bookstore renaissance is that ABA membership continued to rise and should increase again this year.

Still, despite the year, "we're not out of the woods yet," Teicher said. "The powerful currents of technological and social change are strong," and competition for people's time and money grow. Booksellers need to make the case for bricks-and mortar stores and show how indies are "fueling sales across all channels." The development of strong business models for stores is ever more urgent, he stressed, and stores will be "places where consumers discover great new reads--wherever they ultimately buy that product and in what form."

Teicher thanked publishers that have begun to work with the association to experiment with approaches that will help booksellers, publishers and readers and "reverse the status quo."

Teicher concluded by saying he hopes that at next year's Winter Institute, "we will be able to say our innovation and creativity and willingness to look at new solutions" will have helped booksellers and the industry "meet the challenges of today." --John Mutter

 


Rare Bird Books, a Vireo Book: The Crown Lord by William Sirls


Winter Institute 7: Douglas Brinkley on NoLa

In the final session of the day, USA Today's Bob Minzesheimer got right into matters with Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Morrow, 2006), by asking what he would include if he were updating the book.

"I sure wish I knew the Saints were going to win the Superbowl," he answered. Brinkley, who was living in New Orleans with his wife and young children when Katrina hit, managed to get his family to higher ground, then returned to the city to help--even if he had no "real skills." Now, nearly seven years later, the Superdome is restored and bears the emblem of Mercedes Benz. While Brinkley sees that as a testament to this city's resilience, he knows it does not tell the whole story, and does not illuminate the real danger of "Lego levees from the 1960s" still in place and the endangered wetlands that have not been addressed.

In his book, he focuses his keen historian's eye on the extraordinary everyday people who stepped up while the police stood by. He felt compelled to write about what really happened in the week after the storm. "George W. Bush finally decided to do a fly-over," said Brinkley, who is now a professor at Rice University in Texas, but still has family ties to New Orleans. "I do presidential history 101: get your butt on the ground." Doing his best LBJ, Brinkley said Gulf Coast residents still remembered how Lyndon Johnson showed up in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy, got on a bullhorn, and said: "This is your president and I am here."

"There is a plethora of Hurricane Katrina heroes," he said. "But the politicians"--he calls them "cowards" in his book--"I wouldn't change a word about what I wrote about any of those people."

Moving along, Minzesheimer asked how, as a historian, Brinkley sees the role of books.

"If I can be a booster here," Brinkley applauded the rich canon of books by historians and journalists. But he is concerned that publishers hold back on advances for historical works of merit in favor of celebrity books."

And Minzesheimer asked: "How do you see the role of localism in a society increasingly homogenized?"

"I think we have a new localism," responded Brinkley, who recently '"trashed" Amazon at an event at Washington University (a comment that brought ready applause). "You are not just a local bookstore, you are a place to meet," he told the audience. He saw firsthand the vital role the Garden District Bookshop and Octavia Books--and other local merchants--played in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"I can't stand e-books," said Brinkley, who worked his way through college at Afterwords Café and Second Story Books in Washington, D.C. "When I go to somebody's house, I go right to their bookshelves--as I am sure you do--to see what books they have. I don't want to look at their laptop."

Brinkley, who wanted to be a historian since he created his own encyclopedia in the sixth grade, is putting the finishing touches on his biography of Walter Cronkite, coming from Harper in May. --Bridget Kinsella

 


Virginia's Online Sales Tax Debate Heats Up

Opposition continues to build in Virginia regarding the deal announced last month through which Amazon will build new distribution centers in the Richmond area in exchange for an online sales tax break and other incentives. At the time of the announcement, Governor Bob McDonnell's office said Amazon would not be required to remit and collect sales taxes because "the entity that will be in the commonwealth will not make sales."

An editorial in the Newport News Daily Press this week noted that, in "the modern world of virtual commerce, any law that distinguishes between companies that have a building in the state and those that don't becomes more and more obsolete. Furthermore, such a distinction ignores the likelihood of declining revenues as online sales continue to increase.

"It shouldn't matter whether a Virginia customer makes a purchase with the click of a mouse, the swipe of a card or cash on the barrelhead. It's time to level the playing field among all companies that do business here and pass a law that requires all of them to collect sales tax. And then enforce it."

A recent survey conducted by the Virginia Alliance for Main Street Fairness showed that 59% of the 600 residents polled believe Amazon should start collecting the state's sales tax "as a requirement" for opening the warehouses, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

In addition, a number of retail trade groups are advocating for legislation to change the tax code and look at the "nexus issue, or physical presence of a company," George Peyton, v-p for government relations for the Virginia Retail Federation, told the Times-Dispatch.

Mobylives offered a roundup of several news items exploring the issue, including a link to a Virginian-Pilot article from 2009 reporting that Sarah Pishko, owner of Prince Books, Norfolk, had asked state authorities why Amazon wasn't paying the state's 5% sales tax despite having a fulfillment center and a data center there. "I think people need to be aware that states are losing a lot of money that they should have," Pishko said at the time.

When the latest deal was announced shortly before Christmas, Kelly Justice, owner of Richmond's Fountain Bookstore, told the News & Advance that Amazon purchases are Virginia "tax dollars... not being realized. They're damaging our communities. I just find it interesting that representatives of the state would be for that. I wish that our local governments were as accommodating to small, locally owned businesses as they were to large, behemoth corporations."

Richmond BizSense chronicled how the deal came together after a phone call last May from a "big-name company in a fast-growing industry with the cool factor to grab headlines."

Liz Povar, director of the business development division at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, answered that call, which eventually led to the deal in which Amazon will invest $135 million for the local fulfillment centers and create 1,350 new jobs. "It's a huge get," she said. "We've had Amazon as one of our target companies for a number of years."

In addition to the sales tax deal, the incentive packages for Amazon include $3.5 million in grants from the Governor's Opportunity Fund to help pay for site development at Meadowville Technology Park in Chesterfield County and Dinwiddie Commerce Park; as well as $850,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity Funds for its site in Dinwiddie. The company will also be eligible to receive benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program and financial assistance for its recruitment and training efforts from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, Richmond BookSense reported.
 


Notes

Image of the Day: Book Harvest for Dr. King


Last Monday, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C., hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. Day community-wide book drive and birthday party in association with Book Harvest, a local nonprofit organization that collects new and gently used children's books for kids who need them. Community members were invited to bring books to Flyleaf, where 38 AmeriCorps volunteers collected and sorted them. More than 300 people donated 10,122 books and/or attended the celebration. Flyleaf co-owner Sarah Carr is a Book Harvest board member. You can see more event photos here.
 


An EBM for the 'City of Books'

Early this spring, Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., will introduce an Espresso Book Machine at its City of Books flagship store. Miriam Sontz, the bookstore's COO, commented: "It is yet another way we can be valuable and relevant to readers and authors as the distribution channels for books continue to evolve."

Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books, said, "We couldn't be more pleased to be partnering with one of the truly great bookstores in the country. To have our Espresso Book Machine in Powell's is a dream come true."
 



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Fairy Tale Interrupted

Tomorrow night on ABC's 20/20: RoseMarie Terenzio, author of Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss (Gallery, $25, 9781439187678).


On the Set: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

The Hollywood Reporter featured a new poster and MTV's behind-the-scenes peek at the filming of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, giving "history buffs and vampire enthusiasts" an early glimpse of  "America's 16th President in action."  

The project, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, stars Ben Walker. In the MTV spot, producer Jim Lemley describes the movie as "very committed version of Lincoln's life--it's what you don't know about Abraham Lincoln, turned on its head."
 


This Weekend on Book TV: Sweet Heaven When I Die

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this week from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, January 21

7 p.m. William Adler, author of The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon (Bloomsbury USA, $30, 9781596916968), recounts the life of the labor activist. (Re-airs Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 a.m.)

8 p.m. At an event hosted by at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass., Jeff Sharlet, author of Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between (Norton, $24.95, 9780393079630), talks about the depth and nature of spiritual belief in the U.S. (Re-airs Sunday at 8:30 a.m. & 4 p.m.)

10 p.m. After Words. Richard Norton Smith interviews George Nash, editor of Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath (Hoover Institution Press, $49.95, 9780817912345). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. & 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Robert Frank, author of The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good (Princeton University Press, $26.95, 9780691153193), argues that Darwin's take on human competition is more accurate than Adam Smith's.  

Sunday, January 22

12:15 a.m. At an event hosted by Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., David Kennedy talks about his book Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (Bloomsbury USA, $28, 9781608192649). (Re-airs Sunday at 7 p.m., February 4 at 11 a.m. and February 5 at 8 p.m.)

2 p.m. Michael Kranish, author of The Real Romney (Harper, $27.99, 9780062123275), presents a biography of the Republican presidential candidate. (Harper, $27.99, 9780062123275).

3 p.m. Jay Wexler, author of The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions (Beacon Press, $24.95, 9780807000908), examines the more obscure clauses of the U.S. Constitution. (Re-airs Sunday at 8:15 p.m. and Monday at 1 a.m.)
 


Books & Authors

Awards: SFWA Grand Master

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America have announced that Connie Willis will be honored with this year's Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for her contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy. Willis is the author of 15 novels and more than 50 short stories and novellas. Her many prizes include seven Nebulas, eleven Hugos and four Locus awards. Willis will be honored during the Nebula Awards Weekend in Arlington, Va., May 17-20.
 


Book Review

Review: History of a Pleasure Seeker

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason (Knopf, $25.95 hardcover, 9780307599476, February 7, 2012)

Piet Barol is the eponymous hero of Richard Mason's History of a Pleasure Seeker, a novel set in belle époque Amsterdam. From his French mother (now deceased), he learned charm and gentility; from his dour Dutch father, not much. The handsome, sexually adventurous Piet is eager to leave provincial Holland behind, for he knows that he is made for better things: he's well-educated, fluent in several languages and musically gifted, so he applies for a job as tutor to the young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Amsterdam.

The lady of the house, Jacobina Vermeulen-Sickerts, is utterly charmed by Piet and his piano playing. "He should play her something slow and semtimental," he muses, "and it came to him that the second nocturne of Chopin fulfilled all his criteria." He gets the job. Jacobina has two daughters, Louisa and Constance, both of marriageable age, and an agoraphobic, obsessive-compulsive eight-year-old son, Egbert. It is Piet's job to make a "real boy" of Egbert where other tutors have failed. Meanwhile, the patriarch of the family, Maarten, made a vow to God that if He would send him a son, he would never have carnal relations again; Jacobina was not consulted. It's a set-up made in heaven, or thereabouts, for the randy young tutor.

He courts the family with music and charisma, draws elegant pictures for Maarten of his collections and does, indeed, get Egbert to leave the house. In the fullness of time, arrangements are made and unmade and Piet leaves Amsterdam in a hurry. Despite the circumstances of his departure, he leaves the household in a happier state than he found it.

He departs on a cruise for Cape Town, not knowing what he will do when he gets there. Always the opportunist, he ingratiates himself to a wealthy man seeking his own pleasure, then gravitates toward Stacey, a shipboard chanteuse as self-interested as himself, "on the lookout for an alternative insurance against the indignities of middle age in the demimonde." (Mason’s rendition of motivation, however self-serving, is one of the many delectable qualities in his well-wrought tale.)

The style and vocabulary are perfect for the novel's setting and the time period, and Mason's use of music sets exactly the right mood for what he wants to accomplish. The well-drawn characters of servants, daughters and friends combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable book. --Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: A charming young man takes up residence with a wealthy Amsterdam family as a tutor to their son, indulging in erotic adventures before moving on to a bright future (a sequel is in the works).

 


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