Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Little Brown and Company: Haven by Emma Donoghue

Berkley Books: The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch

Sourcebooks: Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod by Casey Sherman

Candlewick Press (MA): Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

Jy: Enemies (Berrybrook Middle School #5) by Svetlana Chmakova

Entangled Publishing: Stealing Infinity by Alyson Noël

St. Martin's Press: The Matchmaker's Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Legendary Comics YA: Enola Holmes: Mycroft's Dangerous Game by Nancy Springer, illustrated by Giorgia Sposito


Amazon Workers in Germany Strike Again

Approximately 250 workers, about half of the morning shift, staged a second strike at Amazon's Leipzig distribution center in Germany over wages and benefits yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported. Joerg Lauenroth-Mago, a spokesman for services employees union ver.di, said he expected the number to grow during the day. Earlier this month, 900 workers participated in a strike at Amazon facilities in Leipzig and Bad Hersfeld.

"For Germany, this is very unusual," said Markus Helfen of Freie Universitaet Berlin's School of Management.

The union has asked for a minimum wage increase to €10.66 (about US$13.78) in Leipzig and to €12.18 in Hesse, where Bad Hersfeld is located. Amazon, however, claimed that its employees "earn toward the upper end of the pay scale compared to other logistics companies. The entry wage for an Amazon employee is €9.30 an hour, plus bonus, after one year more than €10, and after two years, employees get shares in the company."

W. W. Norton & Company: Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

S&S Launches Premier Marketing Plan, Customer Portal

In two changes announced simultaneously, Simon & Schuster is setting up the Premier Marketing Plan, which simplifies access for booksellers to promotional funds, and, on June 10, will launch the customer portal, which consolidates marketing/co-op information, order tracking, invoices and digital catalogues.

The Premier Marketing Plan aims to recognize "the important role played by independent booksellers in helping consumers find books and discover new authors," the company said. Under the plan, eligible accounts can receive promotional funds based on the previous year's total "direct and indirect net physical purchases, paid directly to the account via quarterly credits. The plan also provides exempt funds for publisher-approved author appearances. For participating accounts, the PMP replaces the traditional co-op pool and newsletter co-op, and eliminates existing co-op approval procedures."

To qualify, accounts must be independently owned and operated, full-line, retail bricks-and-mortar bookstores with a maximum of 15 shipping destinations. The stores must "demonstrate a commitment to marketing Simon & Schuster's titles in-store, and must create and execute a marketing plan in conjunction with their Simon & Schuster sales representative." The plan is good only for S&S adult, children's and audio titles, and is effective as of this past January 1.

"Our Premier Marketing Plan has been developed thanks to a fruitful dialogue and much helpful feedback from our bookselling partners in the independent channel," Michael Selleck, executive v-p, sales and marketing, said. "At the top of their wish list was faster and easier access to promotional funds and we are pleased to offer this improvement which will enable all of us to place yet more focus on marketing and selling books. We look forward to continued partnership with our independent accounts in bringing books by our authors, at all different stages of their careers, to the attention of readers everywhere."

S&S also recently began another program to help independent bookstores, featuring 60-day dating (from end-of-month) and a new, lower 30-unit minimum for orders.

Booksellers may sign up for the Premier Marketing Plan on the new Simon & Schuster Customer Portal, beginning June 10; or at BEA at the S&S booth (#2638, Level 3) or meeting room (#3239, Level 3); or by contacting their S&S rep.

Harper Voyager: Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa

Monte Cristo: Creating Links to Writers and the Community

Every month, the Monte Cristo Bookshop, New London, Conn., which opened last December after a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, compiles a top 10 local author bestseller list, an important part of the new store's effort to create partnerships with local authors and build up its local sections. "It gets the authors jazzed up," co-owner Chris Jones said. "And it creates some friendly competition."

Jones and co-owner Gina Holmes keep the store's local author display "within five feet of the door," selling books by local authors on consignment, taking 40% of the retail price, which is set by the author. The pair keep a binder of all the local authors with whom they are partnering that contains each author's sales data, which they use that to put together the bestseller list. "We just go through the list and look at how much they have this month, how much they had last month," Jones said. "And we make a note if they did an author event where they sold a ton of copies."

The local author bestseller list is varied, containing fiction, memoirs and even a reference book. Like conventional bestseller lists, some titles enjoy extended runs while others are relatively short-lived. Beyond John Dann, a fictionalized memoir by Thurman P. Banks Jr., is set in a nearby town and has been near the top of the bestseller list for months. Another strong performer is a guidebook that details historic and scenic landmarks in southeastern Connecticut.

Monte Cristo Bookshop usually brings in one new local author per week, and according to Jones, the store keeps nearly 100 local titles. "Without keeping the list, I could have guessed that a couple of [these local books] would be popular, but it would be very difficult to map any trends," he said. "It's a great way to familiarize yourself with local authors.

"And if the New York Times is allowed to have a top 10 bestseller list, then so are we," Jones added, laughing.

Preston, Conn., librarian "Ms. Jane" reading at Monte Cristo.

Another unusual Monte Cristo initiative is Monte Cristo Kids: every Saturday morning at 11:30, the store hosts the event, which features a community member--sometimes in uniform--who comes in and reads a children's book. The events are free, and speakers have included a nurse, a radio DJ, teachers, authors and even the mayor of New London. While authors typically read their own work, non-writers choose a personal favorite or let Jones and Holmes pick a title for them to read.

"[The speakers] will tell their circle of friends with kids to come to the events, and we have a small group of believers who come regularly," Jones said. The Monte Cristo has also hosted a kids' craft day--after a reading, the kids were given potting soil and seeds. The results were "really messy."

"It's a nice thing," Jones commented. "It's free entertainment for the parents and kids. And when every parent is there for every kid, they're well behaved. It's not the zoo that you might imagine it to be." --Alex Mutter

KidsBuzz for the Week of 05.23.22

World Book Night U

World Book Night U.S. is partnering with the Denver Publishing Institute and the Yale Publishing Course, joining the ongoing WBN partnership with the New York University-SCPS Center for Publishing.

WBN U.S. executive director Carl Lennertz said: "Ever since NYU's Andrea Chambers came forward in our first year and offered us the critical support of a grad school team to run WBN's social media, and very successfully so, we've reached out for support in all areas. DPI grads whom I've had the privilege of  teaching marketing to each summer (thank you, Joyce Meskis and Jill Smith!) have been vital interns, for a month or more, and all have gone on to full-time publishing or bookselling jobs, which pleases me a great deal. And Tina Weiner and Amy Shah of Yale reached out to partner in several ways, from a connection to New Haven Reads for WBN editions to a speaking spot for me at the upcoming session this summer. Also, they are offering a WBN discount on this summer's tuition; e-mail me if you're interested at Lastly, closing the loop, I'll be speaking about WBN at this summer's NYU publishing class, coordinated by Andrea and the wonderful Libby Jordan."

The Reader's Café for Sale

The Reader's Café co-owners Maryann and Derf Maitland, who have "held on in Hanover [Pa.] during a time when bookstores elsewhere have closed the doors the way a person closes the cover of a favorite volume," are putting their 18-year-old business up for sale, the Evening Sun reported.

"Not to sound egotistical, but it's become a cultural hub of Hanover," said Derf Maitland. "We hold parties here. There's live music, poetry competitions and even a wedding once.... We're not closing. We're selling a business as it is. That's not to say the buyer can't change the business, but we are prepared to work with anyone who has an offer. We are open to ideas, but we want it to stay here for the community."

Noting that the Internet and e-books have changed the way people buy books, he added that Reader's Café is "still holding on. We just need to change our business model to keep up, and I don't want to change."

Obituary Notes: Haynes Johnson; Morris Renek; Kim Merker

Haynes Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, television commentator and author of more than a dozen books, died Friday, the New York Times reported. He was 81.


Morris Renek, "a critically admired New York novelist who wrote comic tales about historical criminals and modern urban life," died May 10, the New York Times reported. He was 88.


Kim Merker, "a designer, typesetter and printer of some of the most beautiful books made in America in the late 20th century," died April 28, the New York Times reported. He was 81.

G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
The Second Death of
Edie and Violet Bond
by Amanda Glaze

GLOW: Union Square & Co.: The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond by Amanda GlazeGet ready for a gratifyingly spooky historical fantasy with thrilling acts of female rebellion. Twins Edie and Violet Bond are powerful mediums traveling with a group of spiritualists who, in shows that purport to channel the dead, covertly promulgate their socio-political opinions. Laura Schreiber, executive editor at Union Square & Co., was delighted to work with debut author Amanda Glaze: "Amanda's ability to depict 19th-century misogyny and the reclaiming of female power feels so relevant to our current dialogues surrounding young women's mental states, autonomy and right to speak for themselves." The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond is transportive, in every sense of the word. --Emilie Coulter

(Union Square & Co., $18.99 hardcover, ages 12-17, 9781454946786, October 4, 2022)


Shelf vetted, publisher supported



Image of the Day: Reed/Stimson North Meets South Tour

On Saturday night, author Julia Reed (l.), visited the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt., to talk about and sign copies of her new book, But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria!: Adventures in Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry (St. Martin's).

An after-party was held later at the home of Ellen Stimson (r.), whose book, Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another, will be published by Countryman Press in October.

"This was the first stop on the Reed/Stimson North meets South tour," Stimson said. "We are going to SIBA together and she is booking me in a bunch of southern cities. I am helping her get booked up here in the Northeast. We plan to cook, eat and talk our way across the country together. We are going to have a blast."

BEA: Top 10 Things to Do in Brooklyn

In the battle of the boroughs, Manhattan usually comes out on top with tourists. So what makes a trip over (or under) the East River worthwhile? DK Eyewitness Travel Guides and DK travel author AnneLise Sorensen bring you their Top 10 Things to Do in Brooklyn.

1. Play Outdoors: Prospect Park (South of Grand Army Plaza)
Brooklynites like to say that Central Park was just a practice run for designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for their masterpiece, Prospect Park, which they, too, preferred. After a day in the canned air of the Javits, hop on the subway to this landscaped beauty that sprawls over 585 acres and includes a freshwater lake, the breezy Long Meadow, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the country's first urban Audubon Center, which showcases the park's impressive bird population.

2. Sip Cocktails: Dram (177 S. 4th St., Williamsburg)
The draw at this spacious Williamsburg joint is the rotating crew of bartenders who approach cocktails the way a painter does a blank canvas. Tell them your preferred alcohol--or even just your mood--and they'll concoct a cocktail. Or, select from the innovative menu. BEA-goers will love the name of one cocktail: the Oxford Comma, made with gin, green chartreuse, vermouth, celery bitters, and Maraschino.

3. Look at Art: Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway)
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, one of the oldest museums in the country, claims its own subway station--and a magnificent collection that spans the globe. Highlights are the Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art collection, including a chlorite head from a female sphinx. The museum also has a top-notch collection of African arts and sculpture, and American and European art, from Georgia O'Keefe (look for her depiction of the Brooklyn Bridge) to Vincent Van Gogh. During BEA, the museum is exhibiting John Singer Sargent Watercolors, featuring works inspired by Sargent's travels.

4. Discover the Performing Arts: Brooklyn Academy of Music (30 Lafayette Ave.)
The history of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, founded in 1861, is, in many ways, the history of the performing arts in the United States: Everyone from Mark Twain and Frederick Douglass to Mark Morris and Merce Cunningham has performed here. During BEA, top shows include Ibsen's The Master Builder, starring John Turturro (through June 9).

5. Drink Beer: Brooklyn Brewery (79 N. 11th St., Williamsburg)
If BAM helped establish Brooklyn as a cultural powerhouse, then Brooklyn Brewery has done the same for beer. Brooklyn Brewery beers are poured throughout the city, but if you have time, it's worth going to the source and visiting the airy brewery on a Small Batch Tour (Mon.-Thur., 5 p.m.). The brewery also hosts fun weekly events--during BEA week it's the Bags Away Cornhole Tournament today, where you can test your bean-bag-tossing skills, which are often inversely proportionate to how much beer you drink.

6. Browse the Markets: Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg (Sat. & Sun., Fort Greene and Williamsburg)
On BEA weekend, feed your wardrobe and your stomach at this colorful flea market. Here can you pick up a Wonder Woman lunch box, a pair of bowling shoes and an ink-black bowler hat--all while chowing on Baby Got Back ribs. Brooklyn Flea's sister food market, Smorgasburg, celebrates local purveyors and their fine foods, such as the potent espressos from Brooklyn Roasting Company, pork-belly sandwiches drizzled in We Rub You spicy sauce, rolls from Red Hook Lobster Pound and the eponymous Brooklyn Piggies, which serves one thing and one thing well: pigs in a blanket.

7. Walk the Waterfront: Brooklyn Bridge Park (south of Brooklyn Bridge, near Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights)
Trek across the Brooklyn Bridge and picnic in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which extends from the bridge along the shores of the East River, and features sloping lawns and breezy piers. The park offers photo ops at every turn, including close-ups of the bridge with the Manhattan skyline shimmering in the background. Top off the day with a glass of wine in the shadow of the bridge at Brooklyn Bridge Wine Bar.

8. Shop the Streets: Smith and Court Streets (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens)
Rents may have gone up, and plenty of celebrity chefs have staked their claim, but when it comes to retail, many of Brooklyn's boutiques have a grassroots, artist-driven flavor, especially on Smith and Court streets. By Brooklyn (261 Smith St.) sells a terrific assortment of made-in-Brooklyn goods, like water tower salt and pepper shakers and a Gowanus Canal water glass. Also, make a pilgrimage to the esteemed indie bookstore BookCourt (163 Court St.), which is a minor celebrity among the BEA crowd.

9. Dine from Farm-to-Fork: Buttermilk Channel, Al Di La and many more
In Brooklyn, it's not only farm-to-fork dining but rooftop garden-to-fork. The locavore movement has sprouted across the borough and favorites include the airy Buttermilk Channel (524 Court St.), with seasonal dishes like white asparagus soup with toasted almonds and duck meatloaf with celery root creamed spinach. Or, feast on farm-fresh cuisine at classic spots like the perennially packed Al Di La Trattoria (248 Fifth Ave.), a new-Italian Brooklyn pioneer. If you can nab reservations, try the seafood-focused Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare (200 Schemerhorn St.), Brooklyn's only three-starred Michelin restaurant.

10. Watch the Sunset: The Ides (at the Wythe Hotel, 80 Wythe Ave.)
Brooklyners may occasionally bemoan the gentrification of their borough, but somehow all is forgiven when you're treated to a view like this. The gleaming Wythe Hotel, built in a former waterfront factory, features sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline from its welcoming bar, the Ides.

Picture Books for Everyone

On Sunday, May 19, in Washington, D.C., Mary Alice Garber of Politics and Prose kicked off the evening event by declaring to a crowd of more than 100 people, "This is a proclamation that the picture book is alive and well." (She was alluding to a manifesto that Mac Barnett wrote just over a year ago in support of the health and future of picture books.)

L. to r.: Leonard Marcus, Mac Barnett, Jon Scieszka, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Christopher Myers, Meg Medina]

Children's literature scholar Leonard Marcus (Listening for Madeleine; Awakened by the Moon) moderated a panel that included Barnett (Extra Yarn), author-illustrator Meg Medina (The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind; Tía Isa Quiere un Carro), author-illustrator Christopher Myers (Jabberwocky; H.O.R.S.E.), editor Neal Porter (of Neal Porter books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press), author Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man; Knuckleheads) and author-illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Green; First The Egg).

Marcus noted that Randolph Caldecott likened opening a picture book to the experience of going to the theater, and that the best picture books establish a self-contained world, as in James Marshall's George and Martha. (Are they children? Adults? Where do they live? Does it matter?) Porter agreed, adding, "The best picture books are not easy or obvious, but they find their audience."

But what if the intended audience has no access to those picture books? Scieszka lamented "literacy" programs that in fact bring poor-quality books to kids; others agreed, and Medina championed programs that give great books to less-advantaged kids, such as an Open Book Foundation, led by Dara LaPorte and Heidi Powell (manager of the Politics and Prose children's department). It is a shame, Medina said, that education-related conversations focus heavily on testing rather than how to arrange author visits, or how to get good books into kids' hands. Barnett called the declining availability of quality affordable picture books "an ethical, political issue" and said he finds it "dangerous and sad... that picture books have become, more and more, a rich person thing."

Myers, struck by how quickly the conversation had become "heavy," broadened the access issue to include book content. He hopes to write books for young children about "hard" subjects (for example, he has an idea for a picture book about child soldiers), but feels pressured to make every book "whimsical." Barnett added, "The instinct to protect kids is not linked to the reality of being a kid, rich or poor. All kids have problems."

The environment in which Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon) worked, Myers noted, included space for experimentation, through the extremely affordable Little Golden Books, an outgrowth of the workshop-based Bank Street Writers Lab. In these venues, Brown altered the definition of children's literature, writing about fears and abstractions. Today, experimental picture books are too often discouraged, as Scieszka confirmed: "I got personalized rejection letters in response to 'The Very Ugly Duckling' " (a short story within Stinky Cheese Man).

Perhaps, Seeger postulated, authors and illustrators need better channels of communication to reach certain audiences. Too often, she gets invited to speak at schools where librarians and teachers are "just like us--booklovers." As gratifying as these visits are, she wonders how to reach kids who lack literature-invested grownups in their lives. Porter agreed, and after delineating the list of grownups who must touch a book before a child can (author, illustrator, editor, art director, marketing team, bookseller, teacher, parent), said that he often wishes he could skip the intermediaries and give books directly to children. Scieszka spoke to that wish as well, describing how he and Barnett went directly to kids to see what appealed, only to be told "Barnes & Noble won't want to sell that."

Myers, however, won't let Barnes & Noble stop him. Like Margaret Wise Brown, Maurice Sendak, Jon Sciezka/Lane Smith and Brian Selznick, among countless others, he wants to push the boundaries until they change. He plans to make a black-and-white book, conceived and designed as a PDF, available to anyone who wishes to print it. No longer can we ask, "Is the picture book dead?" The question has become, "How can we get picture books to everyone?" --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education (and former bookseller at Politics and Prose)

Road Trip: 'Exploring New England's Small Bookstores'

Bookstores are "more tantalizing than diners and fresh-made pies, streets lined with tiny shops, antique shops with carefully cluttered yards, or old movie theaters playing classic movies," the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette observed on its road trip exploring some of New England's indie bookshops.

"Summer's the perfect time to visit some; as you travel, keep an eye out for funky bookstores and the opportunity to find new books for the collection at home," reporter Ann Connery Frantz noted, adding: "I've seen independent stores close up, but still believe they'll survive the general self-immolation of the giant bookstores when all is recorded in history. They are at the core of readers' hearts, along with libraries, and deserve our attention!"

Book Trailer of the Day: I'll Be Seeing You

I'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan (Harlequin Mira), a story of two women, who, during World War II, correspond without meeting in person, by two authors who wrote the story before they ever met.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Charles Emmerson Looks Back a Century

This morning on NPR's Morning Edition: Charles Emmerson, author of 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (PublicAffairs, $30, 9781610392563).


This morning on the Today Show: Ben Mezrich, author of Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire--and How It All Came Crashing Down (Morrow, $27.99, 9780062240095).


Today on Charlie Rose: Ken Robinson, co-author of Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (Viking, $27.95, 9780670022380).


Tonight on a repeat of the Daily Show: Bill O'Reilly, author of Keep It Pithy: Useful Observations in a Tough World (Crown Archetype, $21.99, 9780385346627).


Tonight on a repeat of the Colbert Report: Noah Feldman, author of Cool War: The Future of Global Competition (Random House, $26, 9780812992748).


Tomorrow on CNN's Early Start: Steve Schrippa, author of Big Daddy's Rules: Raising Daughters Is Tougher Than I Look (Touchstone, $25, 9781476706344).


Tomorrow on Dr. Oz: Susan Blum, author of The Immune System Recovery Plan: A Doctor's 4-Step Program to Treat Autoimmune Disease (Scribner, $27.99, 9781451694970).


Tomorrow on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes: Dan Savage, author of American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics (Dutton, $26.95, 9780525954101).


Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: readers review The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Back Bay, $14.99, 9780316126670).


Tomorrow on a repeat of the View: Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn, authors of VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave (Atria, $25, 9781451678123).


Tomorrow night on a repeat of the Daily Show: George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, 9780374102418).

Movies: Blue Is the Warmest Color Wins at Cannes

This year's Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival was Blue Is the Warmest Color, based on the French graphic novel Le Bleu Est une Couleur Chaude (Blue Is a Hot Color) by Julie Martoh. Arsenal Pulp will release an English translation in October under the title Blue Angel. The movie was the first graphic-novel adaptation to take the top award, Jacket Copy reported, noting that Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis tied for the Cannes Jury Prize in 2007.

Books & Authors

Awards: Irma Simonton Black, Cook Prize; Aussie Book Industry

Last Thursday, the Bank Street College of Education held a celebration for the winners of the Irma Simonton Black Award (for best picture book of the year, voted on by first- and second-graders) and the Cook Prize (for the best picture book representing STEM principles, voted on by third- and fourth-graders).

The winners are (l. to r.): Scott Magoon and Michelle Knudsen, illustrator and author (respectively) of the Irma Black Award winner, Big Mean Mike (Candlewick); Yancey Labat and Andrea Menotti, illustrator and author (respectively) of the Cook Prize winner, How Many Jelly Beans? (Chronicle); and Cook Prize honorees Kate Hosford (author of Infinity and Me, Lerner Books), Gene Barretta (Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives, Holt), and Roxie Munro (Busy Builders, Two Lions/Amazon).


Author M.L. Stedman was a multiple prize winner at this year's Australian Book Industry Awards, presented as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival, Books+Publishing reported. The honorees include:

Book of the Year, Literary Fiction Book of the Year & Newcomer of the Year: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
General fiction: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
General nonfiction: QF32 by Richard De Crespigny
Biography: Jim Stynes: My Journey by Jim Stynes and Warwick Green
Illustrated book (joint winners): The Lost Diggers by Ross Coulthart & Lake Eyre: A Journey through the Heart of the Continent by Paul Lockyer
Younger children: The Very Hungry Bear by Nick Bland
Older children: The 26- Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Independent bookseller: Shearer's Bookshop, Leichhardt
Chain/franchise bookseller: Dymocks, Melbourne
Specialist bookseller: Boffins Bookshop, Perth
Regional bookseller: Lorne Beach Books, Lorne

Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Small publisher: The Text Publishing Company

Book Review

Review: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer (Ecco, $26.99 hardcover, 9780062213785, June 25, 2013)

In Andrew Sean Greer's contemplative, reflective fourth novel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, our narrator, Greta, a young woman in her 30s, tells us early on that she longs to live "in any time but this one"--1985. Her gay brother, Felix, whom she loves deeply, has died of AIDS; Nathan, her boyfriend of 10 years, has left her for another woman. Distraught and depressed, she turns to Dr. Cerletti for electroconvulsive therapy treatments. And then, like Dorothy clicking her magic shoes, Greta intones, "I wish it not to have happened.... Any time but this one," and she's gone.

It's October 1918. Felix, still gay and deeply closeted, is alive; she's married to Nathan, but he's at war. This world is kinder, gentler, more comfortable--idyllic, even. She loves it here and thinks: "The impossible happens once to each of us." Yet, just as in The Confessions of Max Tivoli, in which Greer gave Max a chance to woo his love in three different time periods, here, too, he gives Greta more than one chance at the impossible.

Waking up one day, she discovers that she has moved on to November 1941. She's married to Nathan and they have a son. Felix is alive, too. In each period, Greta is always in New York City, at her home in Patchin Place, fully aware of being there, from the future, and accepting each of these worlds, adjusting to "the strange sensation of a body not my own." She tells Felix, "I'm not who you think I am." He responds, "Me neither, baby." In these words, she says, "I heard my dead brother at last."

The traveling continues, back and forth, with Greta constantly learning from each visit, trying to make the right choices and the right decisions each "time." Will she ever get it "right?" Although Greer's use of time-traveling doesn't dwell on the scientific complexities and nuances we've read about in other novels, this lovely, enchanting novel's focus is really on relationships, family, friends and the liabilities of love and loss--the timeless, immutable, wonderful plight of our human condition. --Tom Lavoie

Shelf Talker: Greer's fourth novel asks the question: Knowing what we know now, if we could live in another time and place, would we truly love and live differently?

KidsBuzz: Schiffer Kids: Big P Takes a Fall (and That's Not All) by Pamela Jane, illus. by Hina Imtiaz
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