Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Henry Holt & Company: Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

Henry Holt & Company: Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

Little, Brown Ink: The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich (a Graphic Novel) by Deya Muniz

Flatiron Books: Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature by Sarah Hart

Dundurn Press: Chasing the Black Eagle by Bruce Geddes

Amulet Books: Batcat: Volume 1 by Meggie Ramm

Berkley Books: The Comeback Summer by Ali Brady

Editors' Note

Welcome, Dave Wheeler!

Dave Wheeler has joined Shelf Awareness as publishing assistant in the Seattle office. He formerly worked at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, where he was in charge of the small press program, the staff picks wall, order tracking and helped out with the store's blog and on Twitter. Before that, he worked at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash. He is also a Shelf Awareness reviewer and, last but not least, is a published author: his first book of poems is Contingency Plans (T.S. Poetry Press).

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


'Cheap Words': The New Yorker on Amazon and Books


In a long, fascinating piece in the current New Yorker called "Cheap Words: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?," George Packer outlines the tortured history of Amazon and books, which began 20 years ago when Amazon started as a company that sold only printed books. (Packer describes that time this way: in a conversation with Roger Doeren, co-owner of Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., Amazon founder Jeff Bezos "said that Amazon intended to sell books as a way of gathering data on affluent, educated shoppers. The books would be priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume. After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet. (Amazon says that its original business plan 'contemplated only books.')" Packer adds: "A New York literary agent told me that books were Amazon's version of 'a gateway drug' for consumers.")

Packer quotes a range of people in the business, some anonymously, many by name, including Macmillan CEO John Sargent; literary agent Andrew Wylie; Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of Melville House; James Marcus, executive editor of Harper's and a former Amazon editor; and Amazon's own Russell Grandinetti, v-p of Kindle.

Some of the Amazon story has been noted before, from such details as the company's use of a rather ugly non-word--verbage--to refer to editorial content to the Gazelle program for going after smaller publishers "the way a cheetah would after sickly gazelles." But much is new or provides greater detail, particularly in how Amazon pounds publishers for better terms so that the largest publishers now effectively give Amazon a 55% discount while smaller publishers give even more than that.

On and off the record, publishers aren't happy with Amazon, which remains the single-largest customer for most of them, but seem at a loss of how to deal with a company that looks at book and the world at large in such a different way. Packer says James Marcus described the cultural gap this way: "Amazon executives considered publishing people 'antediluvian losers with rotary phones and inventory systems designed in 1968 and warehouses full of crap.' Publishers kept no data on customers, making their bets on books a matter of instinct rather than metrics. They were full of inefficiencies, starting with overpriced Manhattan offices. There was 'a general feeling that the New York publishing business was just this cloistered, Gilded Age antique just barely getting by in a sort of Colonial Williamsburg of commerce, but when Amazon waded into this they would show publishing how it was done.' "

Another "former Amazon employee" who worked in the Kindle division said, Packer writes, "that few of his colleagues in Seattle had a real interest in books: 'You never heard people say, 'Hey, what are you reading?' Everyone there is so engineering-oriented. They don't know how to talk to novelists.' "

Packer doesn't talk much about alternatives to Amazon, including independent booksellers, Barnes & Noble or nonbook retailers who sell books, saying that publishers' "long-term outlook is discouraging. This is partly because Americans don't read as many books as they used to--they are too busy doing other things with their devices--but also because of the relentless downward pressure on prices that Amazon enforces. The digital market is awash with millions of barely edited titles, most of it dreck, while readers are being conditioned to think that books are worth as little as a sandwich. 'Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value,' [Dennis] Johnson said. 'It's a widget.' "

Packer quotes a literary agent saying that book world trends are leading to " 'the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer.' A few brand names at the top, a mass of unwashed titles down below, the middle hollowed out: the book business in the age of Amazon mirrors the widening inequality of the broader economy."

Packer concludes: "Bezos is right: gatekeepers are inherently élitist, and some of them have been weakened, in no small part, because of their complacency and short-term thinking. But gatekeepers are also barriers against the complete commercialization of ideas, allowing new talent the time to develop and learn to tell difficult truths. When the last gatekeeper but one is gone, will Amazon care whether a book is any good?"

Blink: Come Home Safe by Brian G. Buckmire

B&N Fires Nook Hardware Engineers, Stock Jumps 8.8%

Barnes & Noble has laid off many of its Nook hardware engineers, a move that is one of the most dramatic demonstrations that it is cutting back its Nook division. (It has already stopped manufacturing the Nook and has retreated from the tablet market.) Once supportive of the Nook but now wanting the company to get out of the business, which has been a money-loser, Wall Street reacted to the move positively: yesterday B&N's stock rose 8.8%, to $16.06.

Business Insider, which broke the story, said that B&N confirmed that some--but not all--Nook hardware engineers had been let go. B&N said, "We've been very clear about our focus on rationalizing the Nook business and positioning it for future success and value creation. As we've aligned Nook's cost structure with business realities, staffing levels in certain areas of our organization have changed, leading to some job eliminations. We're not going to comment specifically on those eliminations."

Last month, B&N fired v-p of hardware Bill Saperstein. B&N is focusing its digital efforts on apps and distribution of e-books and other digital content.

[Conspiracy theorists note that in "Cheap Words," George Packer mentions that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose Kindle is the Nook's biggest competitor, is "a major investor" in Business Insider, whose founder, editor and CEO is Henry Blodget, the former securities analyst charged with civil fraud and banished from the industry.]

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books: Welcome to the World by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Esther Margolis Setting Up New Venture

Effective this Friday, February 14, Esther Margolis is leaving HarperCollins, where for two years she has been executive editor of the Newmarket Press imprint for It Books. She will establish a new publishing and media venture to agent, package and consult on fiction and nonfiction books, publishing, marketing and cross-media strategies, especially in the film and entertainment area.

In 2011, Margolis sold Newmarket and its backlist of 300 titles (which have been merged into the William Morrow and It Books imprints) to Harper. This fall, after her forthcoming titles are launched at Harper, Margolis will re-assume use of the Newmarket Press name and logo. Newmarket has focused on film, theater and performing arts books.

Margolis started up Newmarket Publishing & Communications Corporation and the Newmarket Press imprint in 1981 after a career at Bantam Books, where she began as a promotion assistant, became Bantam's first publicity director, and rose to become senior vice president for marketing and publicity worldwide. For 15 years, she was the book publishing consultant for Columbia Pictures' marketing, licensing, legal and business affairs. She is also chair of the American Advisory Committee of the Jerusalem International Book Fair and created its Editorial Fellowship program in 1985.

Margolis may be reached at or 917-865-9876.

Baltimore's Red Emma's Re-Opens in Larger Space

Red Emma's, the Baltimore, Md., radical bookstore and coffeehouse, has reopened in a larger, new location, in the city's Station North Arts and Entertainment District, Baltimore magazine wrote.

As the magazine noted, "The move allows the bookstore to dramatically increase the number of titles it offers while also greatly expanding the amount of café seating. Plus, with the additional kitchen space, the menu will be growing, too. More in-house vegan baking, on-site coffee roasting, and soon more lunch and dinner entrée options, too."

The piece includes a long q&a with Kate Khatib, a founding member of the Red Emma collective, which started in 2004.

Schuler Books Closing Walker Location

Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld, co-owners of Schuler Books, plan to close their Alpine Avenue store in Walker, Mich., when the lease ends in April. On Facebook, the Fehsenfelds wrote: "As you all know, the Alpine Schuler Books is a beautiful store, with a great inventory, a terrific staff and many, many loyal customers. Our decision has been a difficult one." Schuler also operates stores in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Okemos.

"It's always been the marginal of our four big stores," Bill Fehsenfeld told, noting that the lease was up for a 10-year renewal. "Given the performance of that store, it feels like it's not worth making that long of a commitment. In terms of business strategy, it's better to let the store go, get the money out of it and redeploy it in other ways."

Cecile and Bill Fehsenfeld

He cited the location's "visibility problems and well-known traffic headaches" as contributing factors in the decision, but added that the Alpine closure is more location-specific than a symptom of industry woes. "A lot of bookstores had a good Christmas season," he said. "There's a lot of change going on for independent booksellers, but I think people are feeling good about the direction of things."

Fehsenfeld told the Grand Rapids Business Journal: "Strategically, this will give us an important opportunity for re-direction of resources into new growth areas, which will ensure the future strength of the company as a whole."


Image of the Day: Eat Dat at Octavia Books

At Octavia Books in New Orleans last week, Michael Murphy--former publisher of Morrow--signed copies of his new book, Eat Dat New Orleans (Countryman Press), a guidebook celebrating the city's food and its people. Murphy got the biggest laugh when he told the audience about his copy editor trying to change the local phrase "Yeah, you right!" to "Yes, you are right."

Happy 40th Birthday, Brazos Bookstore!

Congratulations to Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex., which is marking its 40th anniversary with a week of celebrations in April. On Friday, April 4, from 6-9 p.m., the store is hosting a party in honor of founder Karl Kilian; wine, hors d'oeuvres and music are on the agenda. On Saturday, April 5, from 1-6 p.m., the store will hold a customer appreciation party, with beer, barbecue and kids' activities. On Sunday, April 6, 5-8 p.m., Brazos plans another party, to "raise a glass with our patrons and partners to 40 more years of bookselling excellence"; cocktails, light refreshments and music will be available.

The celebration continues with "a week of Houston-centric events" that include a Rice Cherry Reading Series reading with poets Martha Collins and Cathy Park Hong on Monday, release parties for Houston authors Mike Freedman (School Board) and Ann Weisgarber (The Promise), a signing by Duncan Alderson for Magnolia City, his Houston-set historical novel, and a Short Story Live presentation of the stories of Donald Barthelme.

John Willson of Eagle Harbor Book Company: Official Treasure

Here's a lovely first: John Willson, a poet and a bookseller at Eagle Harbor Book Company, Bainbridge Island, Wash., has been selected as a 2014 Island Treasure by the Bainbridge Island Arts & Humanities Council. The award honors "excellence in the arts and/or humanities by two individuals each year who have made outstanding contributions in those areas on the Bainbridge Island community" and comes with a $4,000 prize.

Willson has worked at the bookstore for 23 years, longer than any other employee or owner, and writes and edits the print and electronic newsletters, oversees staff picks and, with Ann Combs, runs the store's semiannual limerick contest.

His poetry has been published in many literary journals. He is a winner of the Pushcart Prize and has led a poetry workshop on the island through the Parks & Recreation District since 1991.

Eagle Harbor Book Company co-owner Morley Horder commented: "We are so fortunate to have John as a long-time member of our team. He is a passionate bookseller with decades of experience, and he's always ready to share his passion and knowledge with customers and other staff. At heart, John is a poet, and he is a master of his craft."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Brandi Glanville, Author of Drinking and Dating

Tomorrow morning on CNBC's Squawk Box: Ken Dryden, author of The Game: 30th Anniversary Edition (Triumph Books, $19.95, 9781600789618).


Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Holt, $28, 9780805092998).


Tomorrow on Bethenny: Brandi Glanville, author of Drinking and Dating: P.S. Social Media Is Ruining Romance (HarperOne, $25.99, 9780062296313).

Movies: Noggin; The Face of an Angel

Summit Entertainment has acquired screen rights to John Corey Whaley's YA novel Noggin, which will be published in April by Atheneum Books. reported that Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall; Dear John) is attached to write the script and direct the film, with Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen's Temple Hill Entertainment producing.

In the book, a "dying young man agrees to be cryogenically frozen, Ted Williams style, for as long as it takes for medical science to be able to cure the disease that is killing him," wrote. "He wakes up just five years later and finds his head grafted onto the body of someone else. He's still 16, but discovers life has moved on without him. Seeing that his friends have grown up and his life love is engaged to someone else, he tries to find a way to build a new life, even if new scars are inevitable."


The first teaser trailer has been released for director Michael Winterbottom's The Face of an Angel, adapted from Barbie Latza Nadeau's book Angel Face: Sex, Murder and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox, Indiewire reported. The film stars Daniel Bruhl, Kate Beckinsale and Cara Delevingne, and "if these thirty seconds are anything to go by, The Face of an Angel is very much about the trial of Amanda Knox (renamed here), and certainly the movie now has a bit of extra buzz thanks to the young American being convicted again by an Italian court of murdering her roommate (she spent four years in prison before the original verdict was overturned)," Indiewire wrote.

Books & Authors

Awards: Montana Book Winner; Folio Prize Shortlist

Let Him Go by Larry Watson (Milkweed Editions) has won the 2013 Montana Book Award, given to "literary and/or artistic excellence in a book written or illustrated by someone who lives in Montana, is set in Montana, or deals with Montana themes or issues."

The judges described Let Him Go this way: "It's September 1951, years since George and Margaret Blackledge lost their son James when he was thrown from a horse; months since his widow Lorna took off with their only grandson and married Donnie Weboy. Margaret is steadfast, resolved to find and retrieve her grandson Jimmy--the one person in this world keeping James's memory alive--while George, a retired sheriff, is none too eager to stir up trouble. Unable to sway his wife from her mission, George takes to the road with Margaret by his side, traveling through the Dakota badlands to Gladstone, Montana."

The three Montana Book Award honor books were:

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston (Candlewick Press)
The Lovebird by Natalie Brown (Doubleday)
Landscape by Brad Tyer (Beacon Press)


Finalists have been named for the inaugural £40,000 (about US$65,600) Folio Prize, which "aims to recognize and celebrate the best English language fiction from around the world, published in the U.K. during a given year, regardless of form, genre or the author's country of origin." The winner will be named March 10 in London.

"From its inception, the emphasis of the Folio Prize has been on the relationship between good writing and good reading," said Lavinia Greenlaw, chair of the jury, adding that the award "makes an unapologetic assertion about the value of experience and expertise, and the high expectations that come from spending much of your life investigating and testing language and form." This year's shortlisted titles are:

Red Doc by Anne Carson
Schroder by Amity Gaige
Last Friends by Jane Gardam
Benediction by Kent Haruf
The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
Tenth of December by George Saunders

Book Review

Review: The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld

The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir by Justin Hocking (Graywolf Press, $15 trade paper, 9781555976699, February 2014)

Justin Hocking contracted a disease in college: "I became obsessed with a book about obsession." In The Great Floodgates of the Wonderwold, he writes about poet Charles Olson talking to a colleague about Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "I see... THE WHTE DEATH... has descended... upon YOU... too." Like many others--including Frank Stella, Laurie Anderson, Tony Kushner and David Foster Wallace--Hocking comes under its spell. (The very title of the memoir comes from its pages.)

Hocking schleps Moby-Dick around with him, talking to anyone who will listen--a young mariner making his own journey. Passages from the novel serve as chapter epigraphs, leading, in a symbiotic relationship, to passages reminiscent of Melville's own digressions. These give Hocking's engaging story its structure, as his personal tale unfolds in short, episodic chapters that move back and forth in time. Hocking also traces Melville's own journey with visits to places like Arrowhead Farm in Pittsfield, Mass., where he wrote the novel, and the Unitarian church in Manhattan to which he belonged.

But Moby-Dick is not Hocking's only obsession. He gets hooked on surfing while living in New York City, spending his free time in the waves off Rockaway Beach and Montauk. His other lifelong passion is skateboarding; for him, it is freedom and excitement, even though the only thing he can do "with any competence or enthusiasm is roll around on a piece of wood with wheels." (When he isn't skating, he fingerskates on everything, doing Smith-grinds on the edge of a dinner table.) He had worked summers in Oregon as a skateboard coach and returns years later for an idyllic summer job. In the telling of it, he flashes back to driving back to Colorado with his girlfriend, Karissa, as he reads Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" aloud and experiences a religious epiphany: "I'd found a way," he writes, "out of the isolation chamber of my own ego."

Melville called Ishmael a "dreamy, meditative man." So is Justin Hocking. From his modern masthead, he sees a capacious and generous world, one he brings to life in this erudite and introspective memoir. --Tom Lavoie

Shelf Talker: A young man's journey to understand his obsessions: Moby-Dick, skateboarding and surfing.

Deeper Understanding

BookPeople's Literary Summer Camps

When registration opened last November 16 for BookPeople's two literary summer camp programs this year, some parents camped out overnight at the store in Austin, Tex., to make sure their children got a spot. Camp Half-Blood, BookPeople's flagship camp program--based on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and in its ninth year--sold out all seven of its week-long sessions within hours. The other camp, the Ranger Corp Training Camp, based on the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, which has been around since 2008, is nearly sold out. With 100 kids in a session, altogether BookPeople signed up some 800 children for this coming summer's camps. Each spot costs $450.

"We do all the regular camping stuff--archery, swimming and all that," said BookPeople owner Steve Bercu. "But we're fully committed to the books themselves."

Each session, and each summer, follows a tightly structured plotline based on the respective book series upon which the camps are based. Every activity the campers are involved in--from hiking and swimming to archery and lessons on Greek and Roman mythology--ties back into that session's story. The programs also feature actors, some of whom double as counselors, along with elaborate costumes and sets. The Camp Half-Blood program has gone on long enough to have a counselor-in-training program for teens aged  16-18, and there are graduates of that program who now work as counselors.

"At this point, there are literally several thousands of graduates of these camps," said Bercu. "Everybody gets a T-shirt; it's not uncommon to see kids between the ages of 11 and 20 wandering around Austin with an orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt."

Topher Bradfield

The man behind Camp Half-Blood is Topher Bradfield, who has worked at BookPeople since April 2005. He began as a children's bookseller; he started BookPeople's internship program and held book talks and performances at nearby schools in his free time. Now, Bradfield holds the dual position of literary camp director and children's outreach coordinator.

The idea to start Camp Half-Blood came after a reading in February 2006. "We used to do readings on Friday nights in the kids' amphitheater at the store," recalled Bradfield. "Around February, we got an advanced copy of the second book [in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, The Sea of Monsters]. We set it up so we could read the whole book out loud. We started at 5:30 or 6:00 and performed the whole book. Kids stayed for the whole thing. Afterward, I said, 'Wouldn't it be great if Camp Half-Blood were a real place?' They looked at me like I was crazy and said, 'Well, yeah.' Then I thought, let's see if we can try to put this together."

Bradfield approached Bercu and after a discussion, Bercu came up with a budget and gave him the go-ahead. From February to May, Bradfield developed a story, planned activities, and got the approval of the series' publisher and author. Although he had gone to summer camp as a kid, Bradfield had no professional experience in the area, which he said was overall an advantage.

He consulted with a camp director friend to get the basics of running a camp that was safe and fit within state regulations, but otherwise didn't look to camping professionals for advice or for a template to follow. "I've since found out from other camps that what we do flies in the face of what everybody thought could work," he said. "I've been told again and again that it shouldn't work, that these themed camp things don't last."

The first Camp Half-Blood was held at a city park in Austin. Author Rick Riordan, who is from San Antonio, showed up and presided over the opening "claiming ceremony" (he continued to visit the camp for the next several years, until he moved to Massachusetts). The goal of the first year, Bercu said, was to gauge interest. Bercu and Bradfield deemed the first summer successful enough to warrant expanding Camp Half-Blood into a full program with multiple sessions.

Ranger's Apprentice campers

Today, Camp Half-Blood is a "totally different beast," Bradfield said. The focus on an over-arching narrative and dedication to the source material has remained the same, but everything else has evolved. It's held at a state park; activities include gladiatorial and phalanx combat training, among other options; and there are performances with actors, costumes and special effects. The Ranger's Apprentice camp is held at the same state park and follows a similar method, but on slightly smaller scale (it is open for one session each summer; Camp Half-Blood does seven) and of course draws from a different mythos.

"Everything we do is woven around the camp's narrative," Bradfield stressed. "We've built up a wonderful tapestry and store of camp mythology. We never repeat anything."

Star Wars campers

Since the success of Camp Half-Blood, Bradfield has consulted with other bookstores looking to start their own programs, as well as traditional camps. Crystal Bobb-Semple, the owner of the now-closed Brownstone Books in Brooklyn, N.Y., has started her own Camp Half-Blood; Bradfield helped her avoid the "pitfalls" that he encountered along the way. He has also consulted with Diane Capriola of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., and had booksellers from Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colo., shadow him at the camp last year.

"I'm delighted that there are other places bringing this kind of magic and fun and literacy to kids," Bradfield commented.

"All I can tell you is that the program has been wildly successful in every conceivable aspect," said Bercu. "It has been great for our involvement in the community. It has been great for our outreach to parents and students and teachers. It's been good for our relationships with publishers. And it's great financially for the store." --Alex Mutter

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