Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 14, 2014

Storey Publishing: The Universe in Verse: 15 Portals to Wonder Through Science & Poetry by Maria Popova

Tommy Nelson: You'll Always Have a Friend: What to Do When the Lonelies Come by Emily Ley, Illustrated by Romina Galotta

Jimmy Patterson: Amir and the Jinn Princess by M T Khan

Peachtree Publishers: Erno Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, Illustrated by Kara Kramer

Beacon Press: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Inkshares: Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Tundra Books: On a Mushroom Day by Chris Baker, Illustrated by Alexandria Finkeldey

Blue Box Press: A Soul of Ash and Blood: A Blood and Ash Novel by Jennifer L Armentrout


Merged Bookstore Opens in Port Townsend, Wash.

Writers' Workshoppe Imprint Books has opened in Port Townsend, Wash., and a grand opening celebration takes place tomorrow from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., according to the Peninsula Daily News.

The new bookstore is a merger of Writers' Workshoppe and Imprint Books that resulted earlier this year when Writers' Workshoppe owners Anna and Peter Quinn bought Imprint Books from longtime owners David and Judy Hartman. Founded five years ago, Writers' Workshoppe has specialized in workshops and books for writers while Imprint Books is a traditional bookstore.

The Writers' Workshoppe closed its location in late February; 25 people helped in its two-block move into Imprint Books's site. The new store stocks 5,000 titles.

"The best of both are now combined, literally and figuratively," Anna Quinn told the paper. "People come in here and know this really is the cream of the crop of what's available. The selection is handcrafted and all wonderful."

Weldon Owen: The Gay Icon's Guide to Life by Michael Joosten, Illustrated by Peter Emerich

Bookstore Sales Down 6.9% in January

January bookstore sales fell 6.9%, to $1.75 billion, compared to January 2013, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. Total retail sales in January rose 2.3%, to $390 billion, compared to the same period a year ago.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing a general line of new books. These establishments may also sell stationery and related items, second-hand books, and magazines."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Amazon Prime Cost Rises to $99 a Year

As expected, Amazon is raising the annual cost of Amazon Prime, to $99 from $79. Introduced nine years ago, the service offers free two-day shipping on "millions of items" with no minimums. In recent years, the program has added movie and TV show streaming and free and rental e-books. There are an estimated 25 million Amazon Prime members.

After its last quarterly results were released and the company was criticized for lower-than-expected earnings, the company said it was considering raising the price of Amazon Prime because of higher costs for the program. "If you consider things like inflation and fuel costs, a Prime membership valued at $79 in 2005 would be worth more than $100 today," Amazon spokeswoman Julie Law told Reuters.

Customers and Wall Street analysts had differing reactions. Some customers raged online against the increase. "Shameless money grab from amazon," wrote one. Others complained that they don't use the streaming and e-book options. But Wall Street analysts applauded the move, noting that even with some nonrenewals, the move could add several hundred million dollars to Amazon's revenue. On a very down day on stock markets, Amazon shares rose 87 cents to $371.51.

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Bookstore Taking Donations for East Harlem Explosion Survivors

La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem in New York City is serving as an auxiliary center for donations for people displaced, injured and otherwise affected by the East Harlem explosion that occurred on Wednesday. (The blast destroyed two buildings, killed at least seven people, injured more than 50 and has caused buildings in the neighborhood to be evacuated.)

The store is accepting donations through this Sunday, March 16, during regular store hours and will deliver them to Assembly Member Robert Rodiguez's office for distribution.

Recommended items include water; canned and packaged foods (canned foods with pop-top lids, low-sugar cereals, fruit juice, 100% fruit juices in single serving boxes, canned vegetables, tuna and canned stew, chili, soup); clothing and shoes in good condition (adults' and children's); school supplies, including crayons, notebooks, markers and books; and toiletries.

For more information about the explosion and how to help, see the links here.

HarperCollins Renaming It Dey Street Books

HarperCollins is changing the name of It Books, its popular culture imprint, to Dey Street Books, and launching in fall 2014 with titles by Alan Cumming, Gene Simmons, Neil Strauss and Amy Poehler, among others.

Dey Street Books is named after one of the streets where HarperCollins's new offices will be when it moves this spring from Midtown to Lower Manhattan, at the corner of Broadway and Dey.

"While It Books has developed a terrific track record with publishing national bestsellers in the pop culture space, our goal with Dey Street Books is to broaden our program without losing our core area of focus," said Lynn Grady, senior v-p and publisher of Dey Street Books. "Our list will be defined by books from authors who provoke, inspire, educate, or entertain." Dey Street will publish nonfiction titles, including memoir, music, narrative nonfiction and self-help.

Founded in 2009, It Books has published books by Justin Halpern, Regis Philbin, Steven Adler, Susan Lucci and many more. Forthcoming titles include Unbreak My Heart by Toni Braxton, President Me by Adam Carolla, 10% Happier by Dan Harris, Dirty Daddy by Bob Saget and Love Sex Again by Dr. Lauren Streicher. All books published by It Books will eventually become Dey Street Books titles.

World Book Night U.S.'s Top Indie Store Givers

World Book Night U.S. said that the independent bookstore with the most givers for 2014 is Books 'n' More in Wilmington, Ohio, which mounts "a very active social media campaign every year." Other top indie giver stores are:

Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga.
Women & Children First, Chicago, Ill.
Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.
Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, N.C.
Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, N.J.
BookPeople, Austin, Tex.
Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Anderson's Bookshops, Napersville and Downers Grove, Ill.
Antigone Books, Tucson, Ariz.
Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn.
Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C.
Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo.
Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis.
Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, Calif.
Skylight Books, Los Angeles, Calif.
Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich.
river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Village Books, Bellingham, Wash.
Bookbug, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Grassroots Books, Reno, Nev.
Port Book and News, Port Angeles, Wash.
Rakestraw Books, Danville, Calif.
UConn Co-op Bookstore, Storrs, Conn.
Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Children's Book World, Los Angeles, Calif.

Top multi-location stores with great turnout are: Books Inc., Tattered Cover, Joseph-Beth, Schuler's, Pegasus and Copperfield's.

Top library and Barnes & Noble lists will be released soon.

Downloadable press release templates, signs and a full menu of promotional items are now available.

Pew Report: Americans 'Actively Engaged with Public Libraries'

More than two-thirds of Americans are actively engaged with public libraries, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, which polled 6,224 Americans ages 16 and older. The study, which was released yesterday, examined the spectrum of Americans' relationships with public libraries to shed light "on broader issues around the relationship between technology, libraries and information resources in the U.S." Among the key findings:

  • 30% of Americans are highly engaged with public libraries, and an additional 39% fall into medium engagement categories.
  • As a rule, people who have extensive economic, social, technological and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries as part of those networks.
  • Deeper connections with public libraries are often associated with key life moments such as having a child, seeking a job, being a student and going through a situation in which research and data can help inform a decision.

"Building this typology has given us a window into the broader context of public libraries' role in Americans' technological and information landscape today," said Kathryn Zickuhr, research associate at the Pew Research Center and a main author of the report.

Surprises in the data, according to the Pew Research Center, included:

  • Technology users are generally library users.
  • There are people who have never visited a library who still value libraries' roles in their communities--and even in their own lives.
  • 18% of Americans say they feel overloaded by information, a drop from 27% in 2006.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet Project and a main author of the report, said, "A key theme in these survey findings is that many people see acquiring information as a highly social process in which trusted helpers matter."


Image of the Day: Balancing the Dog/Cat Ratio

From our inbox:

Greetings from Aaron's Books!

Our new employee has noticed a wealth of cat pictures as "picture of the day" and bookshop cat videos on Shelf Awareness and has requested we send in his picture to balance out the bookstore dog and cat ratio. :)

Mr. Tumnus Shakespeare Dickinson officially started his bookstore shifts this week, taking over the duty of greeting customers. Here's his official store bio:

We're proud to introduce the newest member of the Aaron's Books family. His name is Mr. Tumnus Shakespeare Dickinson, "T" for short, formerly "WW's Tea Time" of Wheeling Downs race track.... He's retired and looking forward to working part-time in the store. He says his favorite books are cookbooks, books about running, and bunny picture books (which he sometimes confuses with the cookbooks).... He says he'll work for tips, which we assume means treats and ear rubs.

'What It's Like to Live at a Bookstore in Paris'

"One minute I was a visitor just like any other, and the next minute I was welcomed in to this huge, historic community of writers and expatriates," said Molly Dektar, a Brooklyn College MFA student who lived at Shakespeare and Company in Paris as one of the store's legendary "Tumbleweeds" in January and June 2013.

Young writers are invited to stay at the legendary bookshop "without any form of payment, as long as they work in the bookstore for a couple of hours every day and commit to reading and writing every single day," Buzzfeed noted. They are also asked to write a one-page autobiography, including a photo.

"I spent many happy hours reading these pieces, some overblown or silly, some heartbreakingly poignant," Dektar said. "There are maybe ten thousand.... Because it's such a rare and lucky experience, the shop brings out everyone's best side--people are creative and selfless and fascinating. But more than that, there's this feeling that things are better when they are shared.... I think every Tumbleweed ends up with a more optimistic sense of human nature."

Cool Idea of the Day: Scuppernong's 24-Hour Reading

From 6 p.m., Friday, April 4, to 6 p.m., Saturday, April 5, Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C., will host "Wordsomnia: A 24-hour Reading." Each reader, whether a local author or brave customer, will have a 10-minute period to read whatever he or she likes. There will be five readers per hour, with a 10-minute break each hour.

Several local authors have already signed up, including Fred Chappell, author of Dagon and the poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997-2002; Michael Parker, author of The Watery Part of the World and If You Want Me to Stay; and Drew Perry, author of This Is Just Exactly Like You.

Scuppernong Books will livestream the event on, an online video-streaming service, so "literature enthusiasts everywhere can participate in the fun."

Personnel Changes at Other Press, DK, Penguin Young Readers

At Other Press:

Terrie Akers has been promoted to director of online marketing. She was formerly manager of online publicity and social media.
Nicole Nyhan, formerly an intern, has joined the staff permanently as editorial and publicity assistant.


At DK Publishing:

Mindy Fichter has been promoted to associate director of publicity. She has been publicity manager since 2010 and will continue to oversee publicity for the adult, children's, licensing and travel lists.
Julia O'Halloran has been promoted to senior publicist, where she will continue her work on author events and take on projects on local and global publicity campaigns.


Jessica Shoffel has been promoted from to publicity manager at Penguin Young Readers Group. She was formerly senior publicist and joined the Group in 2011.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Kostya Kennedy on Imus in the Morning

This morning on Imus in the Morning: Kostya Kennedy, author of Pete Rose: An American Dilemma (Sports Illustrated, $26.95, 9781618930965).


Today on Fresh Air: Mary Roach, author of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (Norton, $15.95, 9780393348743).


Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition: Carl Hoffman, author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art (Morrow, $26.99, 9780062116154).


Sunday on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry: Laura Gottesdiener, author of A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home (Zuccotti Park Press, $14.95, 9781884519215).

Movies: Enemy Featurette

A new featurette explores adapting José Saramago's The Double, on which Denis Villeneuve's film Enemy is based. Indiewire reported that "producer Niv Fichman takes the center of this behind-the-scenes look, explaining that Saramago had initially declined to give the film rights to any more of his books, at least until he saw how Fernando Meirelles' adaptation of Blindness turned out. The good news is that Fichman produced movie was well received by Saramago, and following that success, he was able to snag The Double for a feature film take." Villeneuve, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Javier Gullón also explain how their contributions shaped the movie that opens today in New York City.

Books & Authors

Awards: NBCC; ForeWord; Burroughs; Kay Sexton; Moth

The winners of the National Book Critics Circle's Book Awards are:

Poetry: Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Criticism: Distant Reading by Franco Moretti (Verso)
Autobiography: Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti by Amy Wilentz (Simon & Schuster)
Biography: Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World by Leo Damrosch (Yale University Press)
Nonfiction: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (Crown)
Fiction: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf)


Finalists have been announced for the 2013 Book of the Year Awards, sponsored by ForeWord Reviews to "shine a light on a small group of indie authors and publishers whose groundbreaking work stands out from the crowd." Check out the complete list of finalist in more than 60 categories here.


Kathleen Jamie has won the 2014 John Burroughs Medal, which recognizes "the best in nature writing," for her book Sightlines (The Experiment).

The judges wrote: "Sightlines offers a landmark work about the natural world and our relationship to it. Jamie explores her native Scottish surroundings, intermingling personal history with observations of the landscape. Her travels lead her to study whale bones in Norwegian museums, explore remote Scottish islands, and watch icebergs in the Arctic. Sightlines invites us to take a moment to pause and reconsider what nature gives us."

The award will be presented on April 7 at the Annual Literary Awards ceremony of the John Burroughs Association during a celebratory luncheon at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.


Mark Vinz has won the 2014 Kay Sexton Award, part of the Minnesota Book Awards, for "contributions to Minnesota's literary community." Sponsored by Common Good Books, St. Paul, the award is named after the longtime Dayton's and B. Dalton Bookseller buyer.

The judges wrote: "One of the finest, most respected figures in the state's literary history, Mark Vinz served as a professor of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead for forty years where he mentored countless emerging writers and left a lasting mark on the literary culture at MSU. During his years there, he directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing and co-directed the Tom McGrath Visiting Writers Series from 1986 to 2006.

"Early in his career, Vinz also founded and edited one of the state's most successful literary journals throughout the 1970s, Dacotah Territory, which has been recognized as the model and inspiration for many of the other Minnesota literary magazines and small presses that would follow. In addition, Vinz edited Dakota Arts Quarterly from 1977 to 1984 and was a co-founder of Plains Distribution Service, an organization integral in getting books into small Midwestern communities."

He is also the author of many works of poetry and fiction.


The Moth, the nonprofit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, is taking a decidedly literary approach at its annual Moth Ball fundraiser May 13 in New York City: the 2014 Moth Award will go to author Zadie Smith for being one of the world's great raconteurs. The Moth Ball also will feature auction items from Neil Gaiman, Adam Gopnik and Brian Greene and celebrate the publication of the Moth's first book, The Moth: 50 True Stories (Hyperion).

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

The Winter People: A Novel by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, $25.95, 9780385538497). "This unsettling novel tackles one of the biggest questions there is: Can the dead be brought back to life? Weaving between 1908 and the present, the plot involves a missing mother, a dead husband, a revenge killing, secret papers hidden in cubby holes, a mother destroyed by grief, something terrifying that is buried, something evil uncovered in a field, and a closet door that has been nailed shut. An intricate and chilling ghost story, The Winter People will have you flying through its pages!" --Dianah Hughley, Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.

North of Boston: A Novel by Elisabeth Elo (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, $27.95, 9780670015658). "In this gritty debut thriller, Pirio Kasparov has an unusually high tolerance for survival in cold water, a fact that captures the interest of the Navy and the attention of the thugs who were responsible for her submersion. Pirio, the only child of a wealthy, cynical Russian and his late wife, developed the attitude and instincts of a street fighter in boarding school, skills she will need when she decides to investigate why the boat she was on was rammed, her friend killed, and her godson left without a dad. Fast paced, atmospheric, and detailed, Elo's novel will have you reading way past your bedtime!" --Kathleen McGonagle, Buttonwood Books & Toys, Cohasset, Mass.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel by Teddy Wayne (Simon & Schuster, $15, 9781476705866). "A bittersweet, frank, and funny take on modern celebrity, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine introduces a young pop phenomenon whose career and every move is managed by his mother who has her own set of problems with drugs and men. Jonny who is haunted by the memory of his missing father, is both wise and appallingly naive as he deals with his newfound fame, the business of pop music, and the users and hangers-on of the celebrity world. A touching, funny, and moving view of stardom and how talented young people deal with sudden fame and success." --Ellen Burns, Books on the Common, Ridgefield, Conn.

For Teen Readers
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, $18, 9780316217491). "Roomies is a novel in two voices--that of Elizabeth, a Jersey girl who is preparing to fly across the country to escape life with her mom for a new start at a San Francisco college, and Lauren, a Bay Area native who is torn between a need for some space of her own and worry over leaving her big, chaotic, loving family. Assigned to be roommates, they begin a summer-long correspondence, progressing from mini-fridges to deeper concerns about friends, family, and boys. As the first day of school--and move-in day--approaches, tensions at home spill into their new and fragile friendship, making each girl wonder about her ability to take this next big step toward adulthood." --Sandy Scott, the Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, Vt.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Brahmin: Sharon Kay Penman

photo: William Penman, Jr.

Sharon Kay Penman was born in New York City and grew up in Atlantic City, N.J., in its pre-gambling days. She has a B.A. in history from the University of Texas at Austin and, in her misspent youth, earned a J.D. degree from Rutgers School of Law. She practiced tax and corporate law for several interminable years, which she considers ample penance for sins past, present and future. These days she is fortunate enough to write full time. She has written nine historical novels and four medieval mysteries, one of which was nominated for an Edgar. She considers writing historical fiction to be the next best thing to time travel and feels blessed to have the Angevins for source material, for they are one of history's most dysfunctional families. She'd expected to close the book on the Angevins after Devil's Brood, the final volume in her trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, but they had other ideas, turning the trilogy into a quintet with the publication of Lionheart in 2011 and, now, A King's Ransom (Marian Wood Books/Putnam, March 4, 2014). She lives in New Jersey and spends as much time as she possibly can in France, Wales and England.

On your nightstand now:

Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed. I am taking my time because I fear that he will break my heart as he did in his earlier brilliant novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I also am reading Letters from the East (Crusade Texts in Translation) by Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, as background for my next novel, which will be set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. And I have just started rereading P.F. Chisholm's A Famine of Horses; I'd been lucky enough to get an ARC of her new mystery, An Air of Treason, and it inspired me to go back and reacquaint myself with the earlier books in this delightful series. These books are not actually piled on my nightstand, though, are nestled within the covers of my e-book reader. I love "real" books, but I have been seduced by that marvelous e-book feature, the ability to increase the font size, a blessing for my aging eyes.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Anna Sewell's Black Beauty

Your top five authors:

I can't narrow it down to just five. It might be easier to name favorite books, not authors: John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath; Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove; Leon Uris's Mila 18. But then there are also Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers, Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series and Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series and... I could keep going forever but for once I'll show some self-restraint.

Book you've faked reading:

I can't think of any that I faked reading, but I will probably go to my grave never having read James Joyce's Ulysses. I truly have tried, but I soon get bogged down and surrender.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I rarely miss an opportunity to praise To Kill a Mockingbird, and I hope that Harper Lee has been writing quietly on her own in the decades since its publication, with the proviso in her will that these treasures will be published after her death.

Book you've bought for the cover:

None. A book's cover might lure me into picking it up, but not into buying it. The words have to do that.

Book that changed your life:

This may sound strange, but it was probably the book I first read as a child, Black Beauty. I have always loved animals and I think my empathy may be traced to Anna Sewell's classic. Her horse became very real to me, and I was horrified by his suffering, by the callousness of people who were indifferent to his pain.

Favorite line from a book:

Two come at once to mind. "All this happened, more or less," from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. And this one gets quoted so often it has become something of a cliché, but it still resonates with me. "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." --L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between

And I love James Clavell's last line in Tai-Pan: "Then they said, 'Yes, Tai-Pan,' and obeyed."

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

I often reread books that I really enjoyed the first time around; it is like visiting with a good friend. But for the first time? A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, for it is a book unlike no other, original, surprising, often very funny, yet with an undercurrent of sadness that makes the story so memorable.

Book Review

Review: Roosevelt's Beast

Roosevelt's Beast by Louis Bayard (Holt, $27 hardcover, 9780805090703, March 18, 2014)

Louis Bayard's Roosevelt's Beast blends historical fiction with horror in a suspenseful imagining of an American president and his son facing down a nightmare in the dense jungles of Brazil.

In 1914, Kermit Roosevelt joins his father, Theodore, on an Amazonian expedition. Although the former president is known for his adventures in the wilds, his increasing age causes Edith Roosevelt to insist their second son accompany him, steamrolling over Kermit's protests that the trip could threaten his scheduled wedding to his gentle fiancée, Belle. The journey goes poorly from the beginning, and only Kermit's repeated mantra "I'm to be married in June" keeps him sane and moving forward through an endless slog studded by a death he inadvertently causes and his father's battle with malaria. When a lack of food leads Theodore and Kermit to hunt spider monkeys too far from camp, father and son are kidnapped by an Amazon tribe and expected to save their captors from an elusive beast that disembowels its victims, animal and human alike. Aided by a longtime captive named Luz and her son, Thiego, the Roosevelts stalk and slay the Beast, but Kermit finds himself unable to join wholeheartedly in the tribe's celebration. A sixth sense tells him that the animal they killed was a red herring, that the Beast still lives and now inhabits one of his companions.

Bayard (The School of Night) reimagines the real-life Roosevelt expedition--as recounted in Candace Millard's The River of Doubt--in a tense and brooding manner that never fails to deliver chills and peril in a claustrophobic jungle atmosphere. Although the story is told from Kermit's point of view, the older Roosevelt's indomitable personality often steals the show, underscoring Kermit's feeling of living under his father's shadow. Bayard's ability to capture the delicate relationship between a giant of a man and the son who struggles to come into his own brings an unexpectedly touching aspect to an often brutal story, and Kermit's longing for both the ethereal Belle and her fiercer counterpart Luz reflect the human yearning for both civilization and wilderness.

Scenes of horror and ghostly visitations will leave readers to ponder whether Kermit has a connection to the spirit world or suffers delusions, but the results are equally gruesome either way. This journey into the heart of darkness strikes enough notes that a variety of readers will find an element to tempt them, whether it's the terrifying unknown or the simple desires of the human heart. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf Talker: Kermit Roosevelt and his famous father, Theodore, struggle to outwit a mysterious beast during an ill-fated Amazon expedition.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Shoplifting Books--Stop! Thief! Oh, Never Mind

"Time: 1985 or thereabouts. Place: Shakespeare & Company Booksellers (as I remember it) in Manhattan." A New York Times "Metropolitan Diary" entry last week opened with that CSI: Bookstore intro, then shared a brief but amusing tale involving a few classic ingredients of the crime thriller: suspect, witness and potential theft, with a devilishly clever comeuppance at the end.

The witness recalls seeing "an unmistakable tall, reedlike figure with a jutting jaw and blondish hair, wearing a floppy knit hat that could not disguise him." She recognizes the celebrity and begins stalking him through the aisles until, quite suddenly, she's astonished to catch him in a criminal act: "He doesn't seem to notice me as he stops and pulls a book off the shelf. He examines it. Then, he quickly snaps it shut, slips it under his oversize coat and strolls away."

Still in shock, the witness continues to trail her suspect until his "pace, slow at first, begins to quicken as he approaches the cashier through the front exit. Wait! What do I do? Do I rat him out? I am stunned into silence."

In a dramatic plot twist, the suspect "magically flips the book out from its hiding place onto the counter along with a $20 bill. He then flashes a conspiratorial wink at me and my gaping jaw. Peter O'Toole then exits the stage, leaving this sole audience member both amused and amazed."

I love that story. It brought to mind any number of incidents from my bookselling days, including the time a new manager at the store where I worked thought he had the goods on an elderly customer who seemed to frequently walk out with unpaid books. The case was quickly solved, however, once clues were assembled and he was informed, Inspector Lestrade-like, that the suspect was actually the co-owner's mother.

As sometimes happens, the Peter O'Toole story tempted me not only to stroll along my own guilt-lined memory lane, but down the Internet rabbit hole as well, where I found a gem from the June 6, 1968, NYT:

"A film about shoplifting that included an episode about a woman slipping a vacuum cleaner under her skirt and walking out of a store evoked horrified laughter yesterday at the American Booksellers Association convention. The audience was told afterward that unexplained shortages in bookstores probably run from 2.4% to 4% of total business handled....

"After the shoplifting film, Hubert Belmont, a Washington book consultant who was a shop manager for 15 years, told the booksellers: 'Now that we have all decided to close our stores we will still go on with the program. However, we will no longer wonder why some of our friends walk away peculiarly when they are leaving the store with encyclopedias between their legs.' "

I should mention (call it a confession, just to keep with the theme) that bookstore shoplifting is a subject that has long intrigued and even haunted me, for a few reasons:

  • I often feel irrationally guilty when I'm browsing in a bookstore I haven't visited before.
  • I wouldn't snitch on another customer I saw shoplifting and I feel a little guilty about that, too.
  • When I was a bookseller, I never once caught anyone stealing, even when I was sure they had; even when they set off the security alarm while leaving. I was a master of the slightly delayed leap into action, hoping one of my colleagues would beat me to the door and the confrontation.
  • I knew I would be lousy at the chase-and-apprehend nature of catching shoplifters, so I didn't try.
  • The standard rule that you could never let suspected shoplifters out of your sight for an instant (lest they dump the goods and increase the dangers of litigation) reinforced my natural inclination to inaction.

Maybe I should have been more vigilant. Certainly I was no Paul Constant, who wrote in the Stranger: "In my eight years working at an independent bookstore, I lost count of how many shoplifters I chased through the streets of Seattle while shouting 'Drop the book!' I chased them down crowded pedestrian plazas in the afternoon, I chased them through alleys at night, I even chased one into a train tunnel."

Jerry Seinfeld was willing to rat out his own Uncle Leo for shoplifting books at Brentano's:

Jerry: Leo, I saw you steal.
Leo: Oh, they don’t care. We all do it.
Jerry: Who, criminals?
Leo: Senior citizens. No big deal.

When I was a bookseller, I just couldn't take the pressure of being an anti-shoplifting enforcer, and now I'm an oblivious bookstore customer, avoiding any temptation to snitch. Oblivious... and maybe just a little guilty. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

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