Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Viking: I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

Tor Books: The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

Island Press: The Good Garden: How to Nurture Pollinators, Soil, Native Wildlife, and Healthy Food--All in Your Own Backyard by Chris McLaughlin

Holiday House: For Lamb by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Zonderkidz: The Beginner's Bible: Timeless Children's Stories

Tordotcom: Witch King by Martha Wells

Quotation of the Day

The Art of Publishing 'Good Books for Bad Children'

"I was taken out to luncheon and offered, with great ceremony, the opportunity to be an editor in the adult department. The implication, of course, was that since I had learned to publish books for children with considerable success perhaps I was now ready to move along (or up) to the adult field. I almost pushed the luncheon table into the lap of the pompous gentleman opposite me and then explained kindly that publishing children's books was what I did, that I couldn't possibly be interested in books for dead dull finished adults, and thank you very much but I had to get back to my desk to publish some more good books for bad children."

--Ursula Nordstrom, who was head of Harper's department of books for boys and girls from 1940 to 1973 (from the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which was showcased by the Brain Pickings blog).



Blackstone Publishing: Émilienne by Pamela Binnings Ewen


Bookstore Sales Fall 15.6% in December; Down 0.8% for 2011

December bookstore sales fell 15.6%, to $1.7 billion, compared to December 2010, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the year, bookstore sales fell 0.8%, to $15.53 billion.

Total retail sales in December rose 5.9% to $459.8 billion compared to the same period a year ago. For full year, total retail sales rose 7.7% to $4,689.7 billion.

In 2011, bookstore sales were erratic, falling in January, but then rising from February through May, and falling in June and July before rebounding in August and September and falling again in the last quarter of the year. One major factor in the end-of-the-year sales slump was Borders: the chain shut the last of its stores in September.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales.

GLOW: Putnam: The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams

Stock Funds Stock Up on B&N, Shares Rise 9.3%

FMR, the parent company of Fidelity Investments, has bought six million shares of Barnes & Noble and now owns some 10% of the bookseller, making it the third-largest shareholder after chairman Len Riggio, who owns about a third of the stock, and Yucaipa Companies, controlled by Ron Burkle, which owns 19.8%, according to SEC filings and reported by Reuters.

At the same time, Dimensional Fund Advisors has increased its stake in B&N to 5.5% from 4.1%.

The interest interested Wall Street: yesterday B&N stock jumped 9.3%, closing at $14.49 a share.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo

Winds of Change at Tools of Change

One of the first meat-and-potatoes sessions at this year's O'Reilly Tools of Change conference, "The Changing Face of Retail Bookselling," offered some a stark perspective on the market. Philip Downer, the former CEO of Borders U.K. who now runs a consultancy called Front of Store, observed that 32% of the book purchases in the United Kingdom in 2011 were made online, and that projections suggest that number may climb to as high as 75% by 2020. To complicate matters further, the Tesco's supermarket chain recently announced plans to shrink its physical locations, meaning they'll have less space to sell books--which will have a substantial effect on that nation's mass market sales. Extrapolating from those two trends, he envisioned a future where, as he put it, there would be "nice bookstores for nice people" (in affluent urban and suburban neighborhoods) and no bricks-and-mortar options for the rest of us.

That scenario was worth remembering as Jack McKeown, v-p of business development at Verso Digital, reviewed some of the data from his firm's recent analysis of what's happened to the bookselling market since the collapse of the Borders chain in the United States. (For a full report on those findings, as presented at the Winter Institute last month, click here.) While many former customers had found new places to buy books, including indie bookstores, a significant block of ex-Borders shoppers, he said, are "still in play," not yet having formed new purchasing patterns. To some extent, then, the future of retail bookselling depends on where those potential book buyers land... if, that is, they continue to buy books at all.

McKeown also talked about the possibility that, rather than eroding the market for print books, the rise in e-book sales might actually foster the growth of a "hybrid" market, as e-book buyers were still buying paper editions in roughly equal proportions to their digital counterparts.

That bit of news seems to be something that Praveen Madan, a partner at San Francisco's Booksmith who recently became a major investor in Kepler's, in nearby Menlo Park, has taken to heart. In a session called "Kepler's 2020: Building the Community Bookstore of the 21st Century," Madan shocked several in the packed room by announcing that he was wide open to partnering with Amazon, even to the point of giving away Kindles through the store. "It's not important for me to make money on every book you buy," he said of his willingness to treat Kepler's as a showroom for books; instead, he was prepared to focus on "making sure you feel comfortable enough to come to Kepler's to buy a printed book when you want a printed book." The strategy was part of Madan's notion that bookstores need to "just let go" of the idea that the majority of their revenue should come from printed book sales; he was prepared to make money by selling literary "experiences" (much as his Berkeley Arts and Letters program had become one of the area's top speaking series) and memberships in the store, transforming Kepler's into a community-owned resource.

Madan's vision for what Kepler's could become to the community of Menlo Park, Calif., actually echoed the vision that Julie Sandorf of the Charles H. Revson Foundation laid out for public libraries in an afternoon session called "The Library Alternative." Libraries are "our country's last remaining civic square," she said, observing that they had real estate in just about every American community. Librarians are, of course, concerned about the refusal of several major American publishers to sell them e-books, but they are not going to stand idly by. As the Internet Archive's Peter Brantley put it, libraries understand when the tensions between Big Six publishers and Amazon leads to moves like Penguin's breaking off its relationship with Overdrive, a major supplier of e-books to public libraries, because of the ways it provides Kindle users with access to library e-books. "Libraries would like an alternative to Overdrive as well," Brantley said, "but we're not willing to be collateral damage in your fights with others." Should the battle get worse, he warned, "I don't think the average reader has much sympathy for large, foreign-owned publishing conglomerates."

"There isn't anything a librarian can say to an executive at a Big Six publisher to change his mind about e-lending," warned Publishers Weekly features editor Andrew Albanese, who went so far as to say that the current situation looked like a deliberate attempt by publishers to derail the growing popularity of e-books just long enough to be able to get a handle on a business that had grown well beyond their control (and in some crucial ways without their involvement). The only thing that would change publishers' minds, Albanese continued, was hard data--which is just what Barbara Genco had provided in a keynote address based on a Library Journal survey. Genco began her presentation by reporting that the 9,000-plus public libraries in the U.S. had bought roughly $983 million worth of books in 2011, and that among the core group of "power patrons" who used their libraries on a weekly basis, 61% purchased books by an author they'd previously checked out. As if that clear link between borrowing and buying wasn't enough, Genco added that the percentage was slightly higher for those library patrons who were checking out e-books. As some independent bookstores seek to replicate the public library's community focus, then, it would appear that libraries themselves are actively recognizing their potential as a spur to bookstore purchases.... So one question, perhaps, is where will these two trends meet? --Ron Hogan


Amazon: Prime Is Less than Prime; New Warehouse in Del.

Amazon's Prime service "has attracted fewer than half as many members as analysts estimate," Bloomberg reported, citing "three people familiar with the matter" who claimed that as of last October, between 3 million to 5 million people were Prime subscribers, considerably less than the 10 million members analysts had previously suggested.

The company is "working to reach 7 million to 10 million in the next 12 to 18 months," according to the sources. Bloomberg noted that the "slower adoption of Prime adds to concerns about Amazon’s revenue growth."


Yesterday Amazon confirmed plans to open a million-square-foot fulfillment center in Middletown, Del. Total investment in the center, Amazon's second in the state, will exceed $90 million, with 850 full-time jobs created, the company said. In December, Amazon received endorsements for a $7.5-million package of state grants and roadbuilding aid for the warehouse. The company will also get a real estate tax abatement from Middletown for the next decade.

"We welcome Amazon's expansion in Delaware, which will mean a significant number of jobs for many skilled and talented Delawareans who want to get to work," said Governor Jack Markell. "The company’s expansion is a credit to the hard work taking place throughout the state to attract top-notch employers."

Dave Clark, v-p, Amazon global customer fulfillment, expressed appreciation for "the hard work of the many state, county and local leaders who have committed to Amazon jobs and investment as part of this project."


Speculating on a Future Literary Canon

The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, which has 36 million manuscripts and a million rare books in its collection, "is on a buying binge, but not with the long-dead titans of literature in mind. Instead, the library is pursuing the private papers of contemporary authors," the Atlantic reported, noting as an example the center's recent expenditure of $1.5 million for "more than 160 boxes containing drafts, notebooks, and letters" from Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee.

Other contemporary authors whose papers are being acquired by the center include Denis Johnson, Jayne Anne Phillips, Julian Barnes and Steve Martin. The center's director, Thomas Staley, observed that the institution "is out to play a role in literary-canon formation," the Atlantic wrote.

Gerald Graff, a former president of the Modern Language Association, said this was "an interesting switch from tradition, when authors had the decency to die first and then their reputation got to be determined." He called the strategy "very Texas, very competitive."

Some Carolina Indie Bookstore Love

We thought we'd share a little post-Valentine's day indie bookstore love from the blog of author Diane Chamberlain, who invited historical novelist Anne Clinard Barnhill to share some thoughts about her recent book tour in North Carolina for At the Mercy of the Queen.

"I love bookstores," said Anne. "Always have, always will. There is nothing more exciting than wandering in, gazing at the colorful books arrayed in the front window and on the tables, looking at posters or photographs of my favorite writers adorning the walls. When my children were young, they became adept at luring me into a bookstore because they knew I could not refuse to buy them a book. Toys, I could turn down; candy, a definite NO. But a book--I've always been a sucker for a book.

"Over the past few weeks, I've had the privilege of visiting several bookstores across North Carolina. I love the different personalities I've discovered in each one--I even love the sameness of the big chains like Barnes & Nobles. But I confess, it is the indie bookstores that really captivate me."'s Graphic Novel Valentine

Nice graphic novel touch:'s eight greatest love stories of all time includes Blankets by Craig Thompson, published by Top Shelf Productions, distributed to the book trade by Diamond Book Distributors. Among other titles on the list: Love Story by Erich Segal, Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Susan Cain on the Colbert Report

Tonight on NPR's Marketplace: David Wolman, author of The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--and the Coming Cashless Society (Da Capo Press, $25, 9780306818837).


Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: Ayad Akhtar, author of American Dervish (Little, Brown, $24.99, 9780316183314). As the show put it: "American Dervish is a coming-of-age novel with a difference. Ayad Akhtar writes about coming-of-age as a Muslim in Milwaukee. On Bookworm he speaks about introducing Islam to an American audience prone to receiving misinformation. We discuss the nature of cultural understanding and cultural misunderstanding. Special attention is paid both to sexual and spiritual awakening."


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Crown, $26, 9780307352149).

Movie Photos: Cogan's Trade

Indiewire showcased photos from the film version of Cogan's Trade, adapted from the novel by George V. Higgins, and noted that "there's nothing we're looking forward to in the coming year more than Cogan's Trade, the long-awaited third film from Australian helmer Andrew Dominik [Chopper; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford]."
The cast includes Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini, as well as Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Bella Heathcote, Sam Shepard and Garret Dillahunt. Indiewire added that the Weinstein Company "picked the film up last year, but as yet there's no word on a release date. That being said, we've got our fingers crossed for a Cannes, Venice, Toronto or Telluride bow: time will tell where it ends up."

Books & Authors

Awards: Lionel Gelber Prize Shortlist

Finalists have been named for the $15,000 Lionel Gelber Prize, which celebrates the best nonfiction books on foreign affairs. The winner of the prize, which was founded in 1989 by Canadian diplomat Lionel Gelber, will be announced February 27 and receive the award, as well as deliver the annual Lionel Gelber Prize free public lecture, March 15 in Toronto. The 2012 shortlisted titles are:
A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman (Random House)
Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Frederick Kempe (Putnam)
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel (Belknap/Harvard University Press)
George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin)
On China by Henry Kissinger (Penguin)

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected hardcover titles appearing Tuesday, February 21:

While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era by Russ Feingold (Crown, $26, 9780307952523) gives a former Senator's insight into perceived foreign policy mistakes.

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith (Random House, $40, 9781400066933) chronicles the life and presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Technologists: A Novel by Matthew Pearl (Random House, $26, 9781400066575) is historical fiction about the founding of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1868 Boston.

A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager, $26.99, 9780061957895) is the 10th book of the supernatural Hollows series.

The Dressmaker: A Novel by Kate Alcott (Doubleday, $25.95, 9780385535588) follows a seamstress who survives the sinking of the Titanic only to get caught up in the ensuing media storm.

King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman (Doubleday, $25.95, 9780385534321) tells the story of a woman's unexpected inheritance of a town in Ghana.

Now in paperback:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (Vintage, $15.95, 9780307454560).

The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin by Steve Martin (Grand Central, $15.99, 9781455512478).

Flash and Bones: A Novel by Kathy Reichs (Pocket, $15, 9781451675290).

Book Brahmin: Jacqueline Yallop

Jacqueline Yallop is the author of Kissing Alice, shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize. Obedience (Penguin, January 31, 2012) is her U.S. debut. Formerly curator of the John Ruskin Museum in Sheffield, England, she now lives in the South of France, where she plays tennis, travels when she can, and keeps pigs.

On your nightstand now:

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill; a freebie book of short stories given away by the Guardian newspaper; Antal Szerb's Journey by Moonlight, which I'm very much looking forward to starting, and a French-English dictionary which, sadly, seems to be always needed.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved reading when I was a child--one of the first books I remember clearly is Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat, read in nightly installments by my parents when I was very young. Later came Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, and lots of time pretending to be sailing on open waters instead of trudging along urban pavements. I loved Dickens, too, and was allowed to stay in bed on Saturday mornings so I could make some headway with the long stories. The day I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, when I was around 13, is absolutely etched in my memory.

Your top five authors:

This is really tricky: I think it would depend on mood and circumstance. And they'd be rather an odd bunch: not an obvious dinner party list! But George Eliot would certainly be in there, Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robinson, Henry James. And I think I might give last place to P.G. Wodehouse: I do enjoy a bit of Jeeves and Wooster.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never faked reading anything, I'm afraid. I don't mind owning up to ignorance!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Unto This Last by John Ruskin. I suppose more of an essay really, first published in a series of articles in 1860. But I think it's reasonable to consider it a short book. Not easy but very rewarding: it's had a profound influence on many readers, including Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Ruskin's argument is that we should build our society on the basis of social justice and respect for the individual. His eloquent attack on capitalist economics and industrialization still seems extremely relevant.

Book you've bought for the cover:

As a lingering remnant from my days as a museum curator, I still have a weakness for lovely art and photography books. Recently I've treated myself to the catalogue to last summer's exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900, which is one of those beautiful books you surreptitiously stroke when no-one is watching.

Book that changed your life:

Apart from the Highway Code (now probably entirely electronic anyway), which gave me the amazing freedom to drive and begin to explore the world, I would say: Bleak House, a discussion of which helped me win a place at Oxford to study literature; Wordsworth's Prelude, which encouraged me to first leave home for the English Lake District; and Graham Robb's Discovery of France, which has helped me better understand the country in which I'm now lucky enough to live.

Favorite line from a book:

From Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood, so perhaps this is cheating as it's a radio play rather than a book--but still, I've got a Penguin Modern Classics paperback, which must count: "It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and- rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea."

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

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. It's never the same once you know whodunnit.


Book Review

Children's Review: Ballerina Swan

Ballerina Swan by Allegra Kent, illus. by Emily Arnold McCully (Holiday House, $16.95 hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9780823423736, March 1, 2012)

With humor and a light touch, first-time children's author and Balanchine ballerina Allegra Kent celebrates the rewards of persistence and practice.

Every day from her pond in a city park, Sophie the swan observes the graceful arm movements of the dancers in Madam Myrtle's Dance Studio. The swan finds subtle ways to spy, but ultimately she's not content to watch; she's gotta dance. Sophie sneaks into class and, even though Madam Myrtle won't let her stay, Sophie finds her opening when substitute teacher Miss Willow allows her to join in.

Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully (Mirette on the High Wire) exploits the comic opportunities of a swan in ballet class. In Sophie's attempts at a series of pliés, she looks more pelican-like than prima ballerina, and Miss Willow tells Sophie "to work on your turnout" (i.e., her webbed feet placement). Like every dancer, Sophie discovers moves at which she excels (like the grand jeté) and others that need work (such as the port de bras, as she has wings instead of arms). But Sophie proves her commitment by repeating the steps until she masters them all. Vignette illustrations emphasize her hard work, and an image of her with a pink iPod is priceless. Even Madam Myrtle softens up.

Sophie proves where there's a will, there's a way--especially if you're willing to put in some practice time. Every girl who has ever taken ballet class will recognize themselves in these lively and lighthearted pen-and-ink and watercolor scenes, and even those who haven't will find the humor in Sophie's plight. --Jennifer M. Brown

Shelf Talker: A renowned ballerina and a Caldecott Medalist combine humor and the rewards of hard work in this tale of a swan that dreams of dancing in a ballet.

Powered by: Xtenit