Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 5, 2014


Delacorte Press: Lady Smoke (Ash Princess #2) by Laura Sebastian

Black Spot Books: Apocalypse Five (Archive of the Fives #1) by Stacey Rourke

Atlantic Monthly Press: Unto Us a Son Is Given by Donna Leon

Gibbs Smith: We know that there's no place like the bookstore - Thank You Booksellers!

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

Quotation of the Day

'Long Live Bookshops!'

"The pleasure of a book can be further heightened by the way in which it is bought. There is nothing luxurious about buying a book on Amazon, with its grim efficiency, bright white webpages and impersonal clicks. Likewise, there's little pleasurable about paying for a book at the robotic self-service checkouts of the supermarket or WH Smith. These are places of deals and vouchers, built to maximize speed of transaction. By contrast, going into a good bookshop--and to have survived, they have to be good--is a joy. These are places where you are greeted by a real person, where the air is thick with the dusty smell particular to books, the hushed enthusiasm of conversations which meander delightfully unalgorithmically, and the thrill of discovery."

--Emily Rhodes in a Spectator piece headlined "Long Live Bookshops!"

William Morrow & Company: Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson


News

More on B&N: Stock Slides; Holiday Book Picks

In response to Barnes & Noble's second-quarter earnings announcement yesterday--sales slipped and the net gain was less than expected--B&N stock fell 5.4%, to $21.03 a share, on about six times the usual trading volume.

During a conference call (transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha) with Wall Street analysts, B&N executives added information about the quarter and the holiday season. CEO Michael P. Huseby sounded optimistic, saying that the company's "A Book Is a Gift Like No Other" ad campaign "puts the spotlight on our core business of reading and also showcases our stores" and that the company's "merchants and buyers have done an amazing job getting our stores ready for the holiday season.... for the first time ever, our booksellers are ready to offer their expert knowledge online by providing customized gift ideas via Twitter for customers using the #BNGiftTip and we encourage you to try it."

Mitchell S. Klipper, CEO of the B&N Retail Group, said the core business "continues to benefit from a growing Juvenile book business and an improving trade book business. Titles that contributed to our performance this quarter include Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus, Gayle Forman's If I Stay, James Dashner's Maze Runner."

He added that he expects the following titles to "drive holiday sales": for adults, George W. Bush's 41: A Portrait of My Father, Bill O'Reilly's Killing Patton, John Grisham's Gray Mountain, Stephen King's Revival and Ina Garten's Making It Ahead. For children and teens: Cassandra Clare's The Bane Chronicles, Ally Condie's Atlantia and Rick Yancey's The Infinite Sea "along with a terrific assortment of Disney Frozen merchandise."

Huseby

As of yesterday, B&N bought back Microsoft's 17% stake in Nook Media (purchased in 2012 for $300 million) for $125 million, half cash and half B&N stock. For up to three years, Microsoft is still able to receive a share of proceeds if Nook Media is sold or distributes proceeds.

Pearson, which bought a 5% interest in Nook Media early last year for $89.5 million, still owns its stake.

Huseby praised B&N's partnership with Samsung, which is making its e-reading devices, saying, "We're working together very, very closely and trying to manage demand, pricing, et cetera." However, sales of Samsung Nook devices "over the last week or so, Black Friday, weren't quite up at our expectations. Having said that, no one is pushing any kind of a 'red alert' button at this point in time because we have the whole holiday, Christmas, all of December just about left." He added that because of heavy competition, there's a "saturation" of tablets on the market, "but we believe it's important that we can offer an e-reading experience both in the form of color and the 7-inch and 10-inch device are both great devices and great values."


Abrams: The Overlook Press Distribution Change


Booksellers Blast Indian President's Amazon Book Deal

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee's new book, The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years, will be released December 11, but "has already created a controversy--not for its content but for an 'exclusive deal' signed by its publishers with an online retailer," IANS (via Mid-Day) reported. Under the agreement, Rupa Publications gave Amazon.in exclusive rights to sell the book for 21 days. As of this morning, the title, which is available for pre-order, was ranked number two on Amazon.in.

Industry backlash has been fast and vehement, as "prominent shops like Om Bookstore and Bahri Sons have decided to boycott Rupa and are in the process of sending back its earlier books," IANS wrote.

"How stupid it is of a publisher, who has sold more than 5,000 books, to sell this one book exclusively to the online retailer? Are we jokers sitting here? Who is going to do justice to his other books?" asked Anuj Bahri, CEO of Bahri Sons. "We have decided to boycott all his books. If he thinks he can survive on his own, without the trade, then good for him. It is his policy and his decision. Let him sell all his other books through the online platform."

The controversy continues to intensify, with bricks-and-mortar book retail chains Starmark, Crossword and Sapna joining the boycott threat, the Business Standard wrote. In addition, the Confederation of All India Traders has requested that commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman intervene, claiming Amazon's exclusivity will be "abuse of competition."

"This will set a dangerous trend," said Starmark CEO Gautam Jatia. "The online sellers just gain market share using predatory pricing which is not a healthy competition. So, we along with Crossword and Sapna have written to Rupa to reverse this decision or else we will not buy or display their books in future."


GLOW: St. Martin's Press: The Night Before by Wendy Walker


S&S Combining Digital and Marketing Under Liz Perl

Perl

Simon & Schuster is combining Simon & Schuster Digital with the corporate marketing department under Liz Perl, who is being promoted to executive v-p, chief marketing officer. In a memo to staff, S&S president and CEO Carolyn Reidy said, "In creating this powerful, unified marketing and digital group we will both expand the range of digital efforts that advance our publishing agenda and assure that we are well positioned to promote discovery of our books via all traditional and digital marketing means at our disposal."

At the same time, Ellie Hirschhorn, executive v-p, chief digital officer, is leaving the company, effective December 12. Reidy noted that Hirschhorn, who joined S&S in 2008, "set us on our digital path and has made a significant contribution to our success during an era of dramatic changes in publishing."

Reidy said that under Perl, "our marketing division has been a central, driving force behind our publishing process, partnering with our publishers, sales, digital and operations teams to give our books the best possible chance for success in the marketplace. She has championed and brought to fruition numerous initiatives that have driven sales of our books and raised our profile with consumers and key constituencies within the trade, such as our Freshman Year Reads and One Book, One Community reading programs; our Library marketing newsletter; our revitalized Book Club efforts; our partnership with Edelweiss; and the creation of a Simon & Schuster digital tool box for retailers to provide them with digital collateral and marketing assets to assist their consumer outreach."

Reidy added: "Our combined digital and marketing group will have in place the skills and knowledge we need to run our industry-best websites; maximize corporate social media, e-mail and mobile marketing; produce our successful original author videos; distribute our content to millions of viewers and readers worldwide; and identify new business partners who can help us achieve our publishing goals and find new and cutting-edge technology opportunities that can benefit our books and authors. This closer connection between our traditional and digital marketing efforts at every step of our publishing process will enable us to more fully reap the benefits of the expertise we have built over the years and give us the capability to expand in new directions even more steadily in the future."


Ecco Press: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young


#‎SaveOurBooks: Patterson Petitions Obama

President Obama purchasing books at Politics & Prose last weekend.

As part of the #‎SaveOurBooks campaign, James Patterson has launched a petition drive asking President Obama to follow up on his highly publicized book-buying visit to Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., over the holiday weekend by taking the following pledge:

"I, President Obama, do solemnly swear to help draw awareness to the importance of reading in the following three ways, none of which will cost taxpayers a single dime. At least once a month, for the remainder of my term in elected office,

  1. I will appear in public carrying a book.
  2. I will go to a library or store and get a book for myself, a friend, or family member.
  3. I will go on record (at a public event or on social media) saying that I am concerned about the state of reading in our nation."

Obituary Notes: Jon Stallworthy; Claudia Emerson

Poet, biographer and literary scholar Jon Stallworthy, whose award-winning biography of the war poet Wilfred Owen was called "one of the finest biographies of our time" by Graham Greene, died November 19, the Guardian reported. He was 79. In addition to writing his own poetry, Stallworthy served as poetry editor at Oxford University Press, and later "played a significant role in securing the titles for Carcanet Press, where his own poems continue to be published," the Guardian noted.

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Claudia Emerson, who won the 2006 Pulitzer for her collection, Late Wife, and later served two years as Virginia's poet laureate, died yesterday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. She was 57.


Holiday Hum: Shopping Frenzy Begins, Part 1

The annual holiday shopping rush has begun in earnest for independent booksellers nationwide. For many, last weekend's Indies First festivities and Small Business Saturday kicked off the holiday season, and the rush is not expected to slow down much until Christmas and the new year.

Holiday window at McLean & Eakin

At McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., co-owner Matt Norcross has seen strong sales throughout autumn, and in particular a stronger than usual November. The past two weeks have outpaced the same period last year, and this year's Black Friday and Small Business Saturday totals have exceeded last year's. Added Norcross: "And last year's totals were the strongest we've ever seen."

Norcross does expect holiday sales this year to be up over 2013. "Usually I wouldn't say that so early," he continued, but the showing has been so strong already. "I'm always really skeptical, but now I do expect us to be up."

Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and is set in the area, has been a very strong seller for McLean & Eakin since its publication; Norcross does not expect it to slow down for the holidays. Also, since May of this year, the store has begun carrying turntables and a small, rotating selection of vinyl records.

"It really came from my own selfish desire," said Norcross, on the decision to stock turntables. "In May I talked to my wife [store co-owner Jessilynn Norcross] and said this might be fun." Initially, he brought in only a very small number. Ever since, he said, he's been trying to keep up with demand--he's sold 70 turntables so far and many disks. He imagines that they'll make good gift items for the holidays.

For Carol Horne, the general manager of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., things went into "full swing" this past weekend, with Thanksgiving weekend sales up over last year's. That said, the true holiday rush--shoppers crowding the store seemingly every hour of the day--isn't quite underway yet, and Horne doesn't expect it to begin for another week. Over the past several years, Horne said, that peak of intensity has seemed to come later in the holidays. "We had a pretty good year last year," she continued. "I'm expecting to be up single digits."

Unlike last year, Horne said, there appears to be no clear-cut book of the season, like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch was last year. Despite the lack of a clear frontrunner, there are still strong sellers: among them are What If?: Serious Scientific Answer to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe; Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End; and The Children Act by Ian McEwan. Horne also reported that this year's crop of National Book Award winners--Redeployment by Phil Klay (fiction), Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos (nonfiction), Louise Glück's Faithful and Virtuous Night (poetry) and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (children's)--are all selling briskly.

"There are no huge books this year, but there are a lot of interesting books," said Horne. "There's nothing like The Goldfinch that will bring everybody in. We're kind of waiting to see what the sleepers are going to be."

Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera and San Francisco, Calif., reported that the bestselling book for her store so far this holiday season has been Carlos Santana's memoir The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light. Bolstered by an event with the world-famous guitarist scheduled for Thursday, December 4, sales of the title have already reached 1,000 copies. All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr has been a very strong seller for the store since its publication, and Petrocelli doesn't think it will slow down. David Shafer's novel Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has also performed well, and Walter Isaacson's The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution is catching on. The book sold well in October when Book Passage hosted Isaacson for an event, but now "as a Christmas gift, it really seems to be taking off," Petrocelli said. "For anyone interested in tech and innovation, it's pretty much the perfect gift for them."

Over the past few years, Petrocelli added, the shop local movement has increasingly taken hold. "People have come to realize that shopping in your own community, in a store owned by someone in your community, is a really good idea," she continued. "People appreciate that our children go to the local high school, that we live in the area, that we hire local people. They tell us, we go out of our way to shop here."

Book tree at the Bank Street Book Nook

For Vanessa Gronbach, who bought Bank Street Book Nook in New Milford, Conn., earlier this year, this holiday season marks her first with the bookstore. The surge in sales of hardcover books has come as something of a surprise to her. "Most of the year people don't prefer to read a hardcover," she explained. "But now they're flying off the shelves. They make really good gifts."

This holiday season, Bank Street Book Nook is running a rewards program that began on November 29 and will continue through until the end of the year. For every $100 they spend at the store, customers who signed up will receive $10 toward their next purchase. And to help "vamp up" the store's Facebook presence, Gronbach has decided to give small prizes to anyone who checks in at the store on Facebook, and has been announcing sporadic pop-up sales through Facebook.

Gronbach has no major expectations for this holiday season, other than that she'll be very, very busy. "I've heard from the previous owner, and the owners of other bookstores, that I should be prepared to be here pretty much from 6 a.m. to closing." --Alex Mutter


Notes

Image of the Day: Grinch Launches Bookstore Food Drive

phoenix books vermontMike DeSanto,  owner of Phoenix Books  in Essex and Burlington, Vt., is challenging to the community to donate nonperishable food items for local community food shelves. He's pledged to make a cash donation equal to the value of food donated to the bookstore's food drive, up to $5,000. The food drive launched on Sunday, November 30, with "Meet the Grinch" events at both Phoenix Books locations.


New Owner of Burton's Bookstore 'Preserved Something Unique'

"I don't feel like bookstores are dying," Scott Raulsome, the new owner of Burton's Bookstore, Greenport, N.Y., told the Shelter Island Reporter. "Some aren't doing so well, but independent stores in the right location can thrive. The people in Greenport are happy to have a bookstore. They are proud of it."

Raulsome is now renovating the store, adding fresh paint, new carpet and a wider selection of books. "I want to make it a place where people can gather," he said. "Greenport has so many creative types like authors and artists. And outside of a library there are few forums for local authors to go and spread the word. After the renovations I hope to have signings and book clubs and lectures."

Peter Clarke, president of the Greenport Business Improvement District, said, "We think it is very important to keep the village full of local businesses that residents need day in and day out. We love what [Raulsome] has done. He has preserved something unique."


Trafalgar Square Adds Penguin Random House Companies

Effective January 1, Trafalgar Square Publishing, will distribute Penguin Australia, Penguin U.K., Penguin New Zealand and Penguin Books India in the U.S. In addition, Trafalgar, which has distributed Random House U.K. in the U.S. since 2000, will also distribute Random House New Zealand and Random House Publishers India.


Personnel Changes at Little, Brown

At Little, Brown:

Julie Ertl has joined the company as a publicity assistant. She formerly interned at the Penguin Press and Bookish.
Alex Knight has joined the company as a publicity assistant. Knight most recently was a publicity assistant at Crown Business and earlier interned at HarperCollins and Penguin Random House.



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces on NPR's Weekend Edition

On Sunday, NPR's Weekend Edition reviews Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos Press, $11.95, 9781935955955).

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Sunday on OWN's Where Are They Now: Kris Jenner, author of In the Kitchen with Kris: A Kollection of Kardashian-Jenner Family Favorites (Karen Hunter/Gallery Books, $25.99, 9781476728889).


Cable: Wishin' and Hopin'

On Lifetime on Saturday, December 6, at 8 p.m.: Wishin' and Hopin', based on the novella by Wally Lamb (Harper Perennial, $13.99, 9780061941016).


Movies: Unbroken; Inherent Vice

A behind-the-scenes featurette has been released for Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, based on Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The film, which stars Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund and Finn Wittrock, opens December 25.

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More than 40 new images have been released from Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. Indiewire reported that the photos "are a great tease, letting us into PTA's wacky Thomas Pynchon adaptation that we called 'Big, wonderfully oddball, sometimes confounding and beautiful.' Sounds about right." Inherent Vice hits theaters December 12 in limited release and goes wide January 9.


Books & Authors

Awards: PubWest Rittenhouse

Dennis Stovall, who has nearly 40 years of experience as a writer, designer and publisher, has won PubWest's 2015 Jack D. Rittenhouse Award, which honors those "who have made a long-lasting contributions to how books are made and sold." He will receive the award during PubWest 2015, which will be held February 5-7 in Pasadena, Calif.

Stovall and his wife, Linny, founded Media Weavers and then Blue Heron Publishing in the 1980s. In 2001, he founded the graduate program in publishing at Portland State University, and, with his students, founded Ooligan Press, a student-run press that has published more than 30 books and is the laboratory for the graduate program.


Book Brahmin: Jorge Armenteros

Jorge Armenteros was born in Havana, Cuba, two years after the revolution led by Fidel Castro. He and his family became political refugees in Madrid, before finally settling in Puerto Rico. He studied biomedical engineering at Harvard University, medicine at the University of Puerto Rico, Spanish and Latin American Literature at New York University and creative writing at Lesley University. His first novel, The Book of I (Jaded Ibis Press), is the story of Teaston, a painter struggling with schizophrenia. A practicing psychiatrist, Armenteros divides his time between Georgia, Florida and the south of France.

On your nightstand now:

If a book were to be on my nightstand, it would never be read. I fall asleep instantly. But on my breakfast table, I have several novels by Laird Hunt, including The Impossible and Kind One.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The first novel I ever read was a Spanish translation of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I had so much fun that I did not realize I was reading. That was all it took to make me a lifelong reader.

Your top five authors:

For inspiration and discipline, I sometimes create a collage portrait of my literary genealogy, and it includes particular works as much as authors. Some of those works--the ones I consistently return to--include Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch, Marguerite Duras's Blue Eyes, Black Hair, Virginia Woolf's The Waves, Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives and Jorge Luis Borges's Ficciones.

Book you've faked reading:

I never read Crime and Punishment. However, I did listen to the entire novel on tape. It feels like I have read it, and I speak about it as if I had. So I guess I have read it, or at least listened to it attentively as if my eyes were on the page.

Book you're an evangelist for:

So many books, so many worthy authors! I identify myself more with the nature of a cause than with any one book in particular. And the cause that moves me is that of literary fiction, in particular the nontraditional, the one that takes risks, the one that takes flight. But if I were to shed light into a recent book worth universal attention, that would be Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Never, as far as I can remember, have I bought a book for its cover. I choose the books I read very carefully, like you would choose a good friend.

Book that changed your life:

I think every book changes our life a little. Each one delivering us a step beyond the previous one. I think my life has been forged by the amalgam of narratives that have filtered through my brain. But I must admit that Cortázar's Hopscotch inspired me to become a writer. And as Pablo Neruda said: "Anyone who doesn't read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a grave invisible disease, which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who had never tasted peaches. He would be quietly getting sadder, noticeably paler, and probably little by little, he would lose his hair. I don't want those things to happen to me, and so I greedily devour all the fabrications, myths, contradictions, and mortal games of the great Julio Cortázar."

Favorite line from a book:

The first lines from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita are musically delicious: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

Character you most relate to:

I relate most intimately to Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. His questioning and rebellious nature and his adoption of a philosophy of aestheticism resonate with me. And I am inclined to share his "destiny" to create art.

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

Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude contains so many surprises for the uninitiated. It would be like touching ice for the first time, or like discovering the magic of moving pictures.

Your inspiration for The Book of I:

The first image was born out of a desperate need to start a new project. I had promised myself I was starting a novel that day. It felt like standing on the edge of a very high cliff looking down into the vastness of the sea. And that is how Teaston opens the book. From there on, everything in the book comes from that white center inside my brain--the unconscious--oozing out of me every time I sit down to write. I never follow any preconceived plot or idea. I never know how will the words behave that day. Every time that I sit down to write it's a mystery and a surprise to me.


Book Review

Review: Essays After Eighty

Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 hardcover, 9780544287044, December 2, 2014)

essays after eightyBearded and etched with lines like a dry riverbed, the face of poet and essayist Donald Hall (The Best Day the Worst Day) gazes out from the cover of his collection Essays After Eighty. The unretouched honesty of that visage telegraphs the frankness, pathos and humor of these 14 essays about the "ceremony of losses" that is old age.

Hall lives alone in the New Hampshire farmhouse first occupied by his great-grandfather in 1865. It's the setting for "Out the Window," the first and most beautiful essay in the collection. In it, Hall observes the passing seasons from his blue armchair, interweaving lyrical descriptions of hummingbirds and snowdrops that "crack the wintry earth" with musings on his interior life in the middle of his ninth decade. "After a life of loving the old," he writes, "I turned old myself."

Hall's father died of lung cancer at 52, but many relatives, including his mother, lived into their 90s. Thus, the dominant emotional tone of these pieces falls somewhere between gratitude and bemusement at his own longevity. There's the inevitable irritability at the constraints and indignities age imposes, like the voluntary surrender of his driver's license at age 80 after two accidents or the challenges of making it to the bathroom. "It's almost relaxing to know I'll die fairly soon, as it's a comfort not to obsess about my next orgasm," he confesses with customary candor.

The collection nicely balances the more melancholy details of Hall's encroaching infirmities and illnesses (he was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 61) or the death of his wife--poet Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia at age 47--with lighter fare. He refuses to stop smoking even after "everyone decent knew that smoking was unforgivable, like mass murder or Rush Limbaugh." He's similarly dismissive of the value of physical activity: "Exercise hurts, as well it might, since by choice and for my pleasure I didn't do it for eighty years." Hall's essays on the oddities of poetry readings, the history of his "monumental" beard and the vagaries of literary reputation ("I expect my immortality to expire six minutes after my funeral") are small comic gems.

The title essay, the book's shortest, is one of its most rewarding. In barely four pages, Hall, whose prose style is notable for its directness and economy, delivers some valuable writing tips, including this priceless one that provides a fitting ending for this review: "Let the words flash a conclusion, then get out of the way." --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: In 14 essays, poet Donald Hall expounds on the pleasures, and mostly the pains, of old age.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Sacred Words & the 'Acted Book'

"I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead." --from The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard

When I heard Henry (Ewan McGregor) speak those lines Tuesday night during a performance of the Broadway revival of Stoppard's play, it occurred to me that the challenge of getting the right words in the right order while adapting a book for the stage must present an intriguing challenge all its own.

Exhibit A in that regard might be the new film Birdman, in which Michael Keaton's character struggles to wrench a stage production from Raymond Carver's short stories.

As the unofficial resident show biz correspondent at Shelf Awareness, I spend a lot of time poring over articles about movie and TV projects based on books, but theatrical adaptations tend to get less attention. This despite the fact that, as the Guardian recently observed, "a new trend is threatening the long dominance of the staged film--the acted book."

I've seen and loved several book-to-stage adaptations in recent years, including Fiona Shaw in Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary and Vanessa Redgrave in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. High on my must-see list for the spring is the Royal Shakespeare Company's six-hour, two-play production of Wolf Hall Parts One & Two, based on Hilary Mantel's award-winning novels.

Staging acted books is a complex process. The Guardian noted that "the mistake--on either side of the footlights--is to think that the show is a walking-and-talking book. The premier modern theatrical translator-adapter Mike Poulton, whose work included Morte D'Arthur and The Canterbury Tales before taking on the Mantels for the RSC, warns in the preface to the published texts of the Cromwell plays: 'It might be thought that the sheer length of the two books [1,007 pages] might present problems. I never thought so. The way a novel is structured cannot be reproduced on the stage... they had to be completely reimagined as plays.' "

A stage version of Katherine Boo's National Book Award-winning Behind the Beautiful Forevers was written by playwright David Hare and is being produced by London's National Theatre. Boo told the Telegraph that during the adaptation process, Hare wasn't always open to her interventions, though she understood his reasoning: "On the first draft I made all sorts of suggestions. He took some of them, he didn't take the others. It's his work of art; it's not my medium. I don't have any intuitive grasp of theatre-making."

Simon Stephens adapted Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is now on Broadway. "The first thing he did was detach himself from Christopher's 'seductive voice' and make a list of the actual events in the story," the Wall Street Journal reported. "Then he rearranged them so they occurred chronologically, instead of through flashbacks. Then he transcribed all the moments of direct speech in the book, which were few, because so much of the book is Christopher's interior monologue." Stephens observed: "Everyone who read the book falls in love with Christopher's brain. Our job was to take the audience inside Christopher's head."

A hit musical based on Alison Bechdel's Fun Home opened Off-Broadway in 2013 and will transfer to Broadway next spring. In an interview with the Cut, Bechdel was asked whether she had had any anxieties about how Fun Home would be adapted for the stage.

"I had no idea how anyone would turn this comic book into a musical. And that's partly why I agreed to it, honestly," she replied. "There had been a movie option that I said no to, because I couldn't bear the idea of a bad movie being made about my life. But, I figured if it were a bad musical, it would just disappear. It wouldn't stick around the way a movie would.

"I'm a very casual consumer of musicals. It's not like I'm passionate about the form or even know very much about the form, so I felt like it was very much alien territory. And that's partly, again, why I felt okay about doing it--because it was such a different form, it was easier for me to let go of it."  

Speaking about the musical version of his novel The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem said he had been "led to this conclusion that I never would have imagined without this experience: That theater of a certain kind is closer to the art that I practice than film, for instance, which is so literal and demanding. If you have a scene in a jail, you have to do it, you have to show the jail, a convincing set, whereas, here, we don't have to. We can let people imagine."

All it takes is getting the right words in the right order. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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