Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 26, 2015


Atheneum Books: Bulldozer's Christmas Dig by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

St. Martin's Press: The Christie Affair by Nina De Gramont

Soho Crime: My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Sam Bett

Candlewick Press: Hello, Little Fish!: A Mirror Book by Lucy Cousins

Merriam-Webster Kids: Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day: 366 Elevating Utterances to Stretch Your Cranium and Tickle Your Humerus by Merriam-Webster

Other Press: Lemon by Yeo-Sun Kwon, translated by Janet Hong

Ballantine Books: The Maid by Nita Prose

News

More on Barnes & Noble: Hot Titles, Categories; Events

Barnes & Noble is "very excited about a number of books across all geometries" that are being published this year, as CEO Michael P. Huseby put it during a conference call with Wall Street analysts (via SeekingAlpha) following yesterday's announcement of the company's fourth quarter and fiscal year results. Those titles include Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, Grey by E.L. James (who launched the book with a signing at a New York City B&N last week) and What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss.

The toy, games and gift categories continue to "outperform other categories," and toys and games sales grew 16%.

Regular events focused on pop culture have helped increase traffic to stores, Huseby continued. These include the second annual Get Pop-Cultured campaign this summer and Throwback Thursdays, which celebrate the decades from the '50s to the '90s, and other events like Fandrill Friday and Vinyl Day, which celebrates the resurgence of vinyl records.

During fiscal 2015, B&N did not open any bookstores and closed 13, ending the year with 648 bookstores. B&N CFO Allen Lindstrom said, "We expect to close approximately the same amount of retail stores in fiscal 2016 as the prior year."


House of Anansi Press: Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling by Esi Edugyan


The Story Plant and Authors First: Looking to 'Build Novelists'

"I decided to start the imprint because I wanted to do the kind of publishing that I really believed in," said Lou Aronica, author and co-founder of the independent publishing house the Story Plant. Founded in 2008 with Peter Miller, the Story Plant specializes in fiction and commits to its authors over multiple books. Among its titles are the just-released Pup by Christopher Slater, Lavina by Mary Jacob and The Thin Black Line by Simon Gervais.

"Too much of publishing has moved to station-to-station publishing," continued Aronica, referring to publishers committing to just one book at a time. "That might work with nonfiction, but my feeling was that it wasn't the healthiest way to build novelists."

Lou Aronica

The Story Plant began with two titles in 2008. In 2009, Aronica published a few more titles, and in 2010 he published five. Last year, the Story Plant published 30 titles, and Aronica expects the total for 2015 to be roughly the same, with 36 expected for 2016. The Story Plant, which is distributed by Perseus Distribution, still does an initial print run for every one of its titles but, Aronica explained, it was the addition of digital publishing to the press's efforts that allowed him to expand the list greatly over a relatively short amount of time.

"The barrier to entry got lower," said Aronica. "Digital allowed us to take more chances on a wider range of books."

The way it plays out, he added, is that Story Plant's hardcover list is "the part of the list where we're taking some really aggressive distribution positions." The paperback list is more modest, and older titles are quickly transitioned to digital editions. "It's the most prudent and cost-effective way."

The company's workflow is also entirely digital; the press has no physical offices. "I'm in Connecticut. Our associate publisher is in New Jersey," said Aronica. The Story Plant has five full-time people, and then a group of about a dozen regular freelancers who get contracted for packaging, copy editing and that sort of thing. "There's no real reason to have a physical office anymore."

Last spring, Aronica and his colleagues launched Authors First, an online educational resource for writers. All five of the Story Plant's full-time staff are writers, and combined the group has decades of experience in the publishing business. It occurred to the staff of the Story Plant that they've naturally gravitated toward working with authors who care deeply about the craft of writing itself. Before long, they realized that they had a great resource to provide to new writers.

"We could give them access to this brain trust, this group of accomplished writers who love to think about writing," Aronica said. "That sort of became the genesis of the Authors First program. We as a house of writers should be paying that forward."

As part of the Authors First program, they created a virtual writer's conference, available wherever and whenever. At launch, there was only a handful of instructional pieces, or "sessions," on the site. Now the syllabus consists of 40-plus sessions with text and video content, and this year the plan is to add one to two sessions per week to the syllabus. The sessions cover a wide range of topics, from the craft of writing to editorial and marketing issues.

"That kind of high-level advice is something that new writers can really benefit from," said Aronica. "And the perspective is always from the writer's perspective, never an academic or corporate perspective."

Everything on Authors First is free so far. Before the end of the year, Aronica and his colleagues plan to add a "master class" level to the site that will be behind a paywall. "Everything that's up now will always be free, and there will be free material in the future," Aronica stressed. So far, the exact details of that paid program have not been ironed out. "But what we feel is that there's a level of advice we can offer that really should be behind a paywall."

Authors First also launched with two contests: one for fiction and another for short stories. All told, the contests drew more than 1,000 submissions, and winners were crowned last December. The winner of the novel contest, Christopher Slater's Pup, was picked up by the Story Plant and went on sale on June 16.

"My hope [with the contest] was that we'd find a pretty good genre book," recalled Aronica. "That would have been a win. But instead we found a really, really fine piece of work that I think will be around for a while."

The Story Plant also signed one of the contest's runners-up to a three-book deal, and the 17 winning short story submissions will be published next month in an anthology called Portable Magic. Story Plant's second pair of contests also just went live, and the site will be accepting submissions until the end of September. The plan is to do a novel and a short story contest every year, but if they're all as successful as the first, Aronica might expand the contests to focus on specific areas, such as fiction by women or fantasy or science fiction. So far, though, the contests aren't qualified in any way other than length.

"The whole idea behind it was sort of to give authors a place where somebody would take them seriously, to give them a fair reading," Aronica said. "We'd hoped to get something out of it, but it turned out way better than I thought. Now I'm expecting a book as good as Pup." --Alex Mutter


GLOW: Clarion Books: The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman


Julia Cowlishaw Joins Binc Foundation Board

Julia Cowlishaw, director of national accounts at Ingram Content Group, has joined the Book Industry Charitable Foundation's board of directors. Cowlishaw has experience in many aspects of the book industry, starting as a bookseller at Warwick's in La Jolla, Calif., before moving to Ann Arbor, Mich., where she worked for the late Karl Pohrt at Shaman Drum Bookshop, eventually becoming general manager. She has also served on the board of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, as a committee member for the Ann Arbor Book Festival, on the ABA Bookseller Advisory Council and has been a Nashville Literacy Council tutor and Independent Booksellers Consortium member.

"My passions for art, reading, literacy and bookselling continue to motivate me," Cowlishaw said. "I'm excited about the opportunity to work with Binc in service and support of booksellers as Karl exemplified so well."

Binc executive director Pam French commented: "Julia brings a wealth of book industry experience and knowledge to our board. I look forward to working with her and adding her passion and dedication for bookselling to our group."


Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association: We're throwing a bookselling party and you're invited!


Scribd Acquires Librify

Subscription-based content provider Scribd has acquired Librify, a social e-reading platform, for undisclosed terms, Digital Book World reported, adding that Scribd plans to use the start-up's social features in order to develop a more robust social e-reading experience within its own platform.

"We value Librify's focus on the social reading experience and the great work they've already done within reading communities," said Scribd co-founder and CEO Trip Adler. "This move is a natural extension of the existing Scribd product and something we, and our readers, have wanted to explore more deeply."

In a letter to members on its home page, Librify commented: "We believe Scribd provides the ideal strategic fit for Librify and the perfect platform for the Librify vision to live on. At its core, Librify's goal was to help members of existing book clubs and aspirational readers of all kinds, enjoy a more meaningful and robust reading experience. All of this can now best be done on Scribd."


Berkley Books: 30 Things I Love about Myself by Radhika Sanghani


Obituary Note: Dave Godfrey

Author and publisher Dave Godfrey, who co-founded Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press and whose novel The New Ancestors won a 1970 Governor General's Literary Award, died June 21, Quillblog reported. He was 76.

"In the decade after 1967, Dave Godfrey was a powerhouse in Canadian writing and publishing,” said Dennis Lee, who co-founded Anansi with Godfrey in 1967. "The energy he brought to the mannerly literary world--for a time, it looked as though he would go on hatching a new press every couple of years--was like a force of nature."


Artemesia Publishing, LLC: The Last Professional by Ed Davis, illustrated by Colin Elgie


Notes

An Australian Bookseller at BEA

Jay Lansdowne

Australian bookseller Jay Lansdown, owner of the Constant Reader Bookshop in Sydney, attended his first BookExpo America last month and shared his reactions to the show with Bookselling This Week. Among the highlights:

"I found [meeting with international reps] invaluable in understanding how that side of the publishing business works. I think the opportunity to develop relationships with those people will, in the long-term, be invaluable to maintaining and developing my relationships with their counterparts here in Australia....

"The independents in both Australia and America are focused not only on their businesses, but how their businesses interact within their local community. That can express itself through the events that we do both within our stores and outside of them--at schools, libraries, and community centers; how we donate to local causes and charities, and, hopefully, how we become a focal point on the 'Main Street.' "


Sterling: Dracula: Deluxe Edition by Bram Stoker, illustrated by Edward Gorey


Curating for the Community: 'The Wolfsonian in the Grove'

Coconut Grove residents "need not look any further than their local independent bookstore for exposure to world-class museum programming," Miami New Times noted in reporting that the Bookstore in the Grove is partnering with the Wolfsonian-Florida International University for a monthly series called "The Wolfsonian in the Grove," which will feature moderated talks on the Wolfsonian's publications and related appearances by curators and other experts.

"The Wolfsonian represents 'Art in function of ideas,' " said bookstore owner Jason Dubin. "As a local, independent bookstore we strive to curate our community with not only a variety of the best literature from around the world but we believe deeply in creating a place that promotes opportunities to bring people together to ask questions and shift our conversations from the problems of the community to the possibilities of it."


Cool Idea of the Day: Books in Hospital Waiting Room

Mercy Hospital's John Kalinowski and Tom McDonnell (r.) director of Dog Ears Bookstore, stock bookshelves in the hospital waiting room. (photo: Joe Kirchmyer)

A partnership between Dog Ears Bookstore & Café and Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, N.Y., "has resulted in numerous books being delivered to the hospital's Margaret L. Wendt Family Center waiting room," with the first delivery of approximately 50 new books occurring June 12, Buffalo Scoop reported.

"Mercy Hospital officials were looking to create a partnership with a local nonprofit organization that could help further their mission while keeping in mind the comfort and needs of their patients and the patients' families," said Thomas McDonnell, director of the nonprofit bookstore. "We are thrilled to be part of this literacy endeavor and we hope to provide books for additional waiting rooms within the hospital in the near future."


Personnel Changes at Parragon

Effective July 7, Claire Payne is joining Parragon as senior director of mass market sales. She was director of sales for 10 years at Dalmation Press. When the press was bought by Bendon three years ago, she was promoted to senior director of sales.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Rinker Buck on NPR's Weekend Edition

Today on Fresh Air: Arthur Allen, author of The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis (Norton, $26.95, 9780393081015).

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On Sunday on NPR's Weekend Edition: Rinker Buck, author of The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781451659160).

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Sunday on ESPN's Sports Center: Isaiah Austin, author of Dream Again: A Story of Faith, Courage, and the Tenacity to Overcome (Howard Books, $24.99, 9781501107399).


On Stage: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

This morning on Twitter, J. K. Rowling announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new stage play centered on the series, will open next summer at the Palace Theatre in London's West End. The script was written by Jack Thorne, who collaborated with Rowling, and is being directed by John Tiffany, with singer-songwriter Imogen Heap writing the music.

"I don't want to say too much more, because I don't want to spoil what I know will be a real treat for fans," Rowling tweeted, adding: "However, I can say that it is not a prequel!"


Movies: The Circle; Looking for Alaska

Emma Watson will co-star with Tom Hanks in James Ponsoldt's upcoming film adaptation of The Circle by Dave Eggers. Variety reported that shooting will begin in September in California. Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) is directing from his own script.

"Emma Watson is one of my favorite actors, and her incredible talent, sensitivity and deep intelligence will bring an electric energy to The Circle," Ponsoldt said.

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Paramount Pictures is negotiating with Rebecca Thomas to direct Looking for Alaska, based on the John Green novel that has been adapted by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who also wrote the screenplay for The Fault in Our Stars. Deadline.com reported that Thomas "made her feature directing debut on Electrick Children, which she wrote as an original."



Books & Authors

Awards: Cross British Sports Book

Proud, the memoir of former Welsh rugby international Gareth Thomas, was honored as sports book of the year at the Cross British Sports Book Awards. Thomas's "inspirational story of coming out as gay in the macho world of rugby," which was co-written with Michael Calvin, had earlier been named winner of the autobiography category. A complete list of category winners can be found here.

"I'm proud, in so many ways, to win this award. The book means so much to me because I have discovered that it means so much to others," said Thomas.


Book Brahmin: Hannah McKinnon

photo: Amy Chaillou Caraluzzi

Hannah McKinnon was going to be a veterinarian until she attended a young authors conference in the third grade. After graduating from Connecticut College and Flinders University of South Australia, McKinnon returned to the U.S. to teach elementary school. Read-aloud was her favorite time of day with her fourth grade students, and one morning, after struggling to get through a particularly moving passage from Kate Di Camillo's Because of Winn Dixie, when she looked up to see the tear-stained faces of her students looking back at her, she knew she couldn't put off writing something of her own any longer.

Her first two novels for young readers, Franny Parker and The Properties of Water, were published in 2009 and 2010 respectively, by FSG. Her first adult fiction title, The Lake Season, was just released by Emily Bestler Books/Simon & Schuster. Her next novel, Back to You And Me, will be published in 2016.

On your nightstand now:

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; The Birthdays by Heidi Pitlor.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Stuart Little by E.B. White; the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley (anything with horses!)

My parents were both teachers, and our house was filled with books, books and more books. My grandfather had a small A-frame cottage set behind the dunes on the remote shores of New Brunswick, Canada, and in the summers we'd go up there for weeks on end. Aside from the sand and the sea, we had only each other and our books. I'd devour whole works of authors each August. It was magical.

Your top five authors:

How about one more, for good luck?

I've followed these authors for years. I like them on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train. In a box, with a fox.... I like them here and there and anywhere!

Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Anita Shreve, Barbara Kingsolver, Anna Quindlen, Elizabeth Berg.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never faked reading a book for repute, but I admit that I once lied about finishing a book: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. My professor at Skidmore College assigned it for a literature class one semester. I just could not get into it or through it. I've since tried--it's just not going to happen.

Book you're an evangelist for:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Set in an all-boy's prep school, before and during World War II, none of it should have felt familiar to me. But it did! When I first read the book in a high school English class, I cried. For both Gene and Phineas, and for that loss of innocence we all experience coming of age.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand. A breezy New England summer day, a bride and a beach: who could resist? But I ended up loving the dysfunctional family inside as much as the cover outside.

Book that changed your life:

Stephen King's On Writing. A keen, funny, and surprisingly tender account of his own writing life. He shares just how hard it is to write and how he does it day in and day out. His insights made me realize how incomplete I'd feel if I went through life without attempting it.

But--in the spirit of full disclosure--since having kids, huge props to Jodi A. Mindell's For Infants and Their Parents: Sleeping Through the Night.

Now, THAT book changed my life!

Favorite line from a book:

I have to share two. One for the insides of ourselves, and one for the outside.

"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides." --Barbara Kinsgolver, The Bean Trees

"Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?... It is because people think only about their own business, and won't trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light.... My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt." --Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

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

This may sound strange, and let me preface it by saying I detest reading my own work, but it's got to be the rough draft of The Properties of Water. It was my first book. It was unpublished and without an agent or a contract in sight. But, looking back, it was probably the purest form of craft I'll ever experience, precisely for those reasons.

These days, I really don't read my own work. Each time, I find something to change. Or something I really wish I'd omitted. Or a line (or whole page!) that just irks me. I'm tired of my own voice. I imagine it's like actors who cringe at the notion of watching themselves on screen.

Oh, but the day you finish that first book--when it's just you at your desk! Before there is an editor's voice whispering in your ear, or the worries about critical reactions rattling around your brain, or the tapping of sales figures against your temples those first months after publication. I was blessedly ignorant when I read that rough draft that fall day, focused only on the words on the page and how they made me feel.

Publishing has been a joy, and a dream realized, and pure, raw, painful work. But years ago, when I read the last page of my first draft, it was like that oddly still moment after giving birth--after the nurses clear out and your husband has run down the hall to fetch your parents--when it's just you holding your newborn baby, before you let the rest of the world in.

If you're writing your first book now, embrace it. It's why we do it.


Book Review

Review: Bradstreet Gate

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman (Crown , $26 hardcover, 9780804139311, July 7, 2015)

Three ambitious high school graduates enter Harvard in the fall of 1993. By the time they graduate four years later, their lives have been forever changed by the murder of one of their classmates and their involvement in a web that connects them to the man suspected of murdering her. Robin Kirman's first novel is a complex and sophisticated character study of three young people who must deal with a troubled past while navigating the perilous path into adulthood.

Georgia Calvin, Charlie Flournoy and Alice Kovac aren't the typical super-achievers who emerge from the tiny funnel that allows the anointed a place in Harvard's freshman class. Each has had to overcome some form of serious family dysfunction to make it to Cambridge, and each approaches the four years on campus with a dramatically different picture of what eventual success will look like. But whatever their plans, they're altered irrevocably by their relationship with housemaster Rufus Storrow. Storrow is a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar whose biography hints at danger, a man two decades older who becomes a role model for Charlie and the focus of sexual intrigue that entangles Georgia and Alice.

The novel follows the three graduates over the decade after they leave school, a span that finds them confronting mental and physical illness, career success and setbacks, the first blossoming of family life and the search for love. Though readers learn of the murder of Julie Patel, and of Rufus Storrow's suspect status, in the novel's prologue, Kirman is less interested in the whodunit element of her plot than she is in portraying how the crime alters the three students' view of themselves, of Storrow and of each other.

It takes some patience to navigate the first third of Bradstreet Gate, as Kirman is deliberate in introducing each of her characters and painstaking at providing the brushstrokes to fill out their portraits. But that patience is rewarded when we realize she has succeeded in creating dynamic characters free from the stereotypes that sometimes mar the efforts of first novelists. Kirman neatly manages the novelistic coincidences necessary to move her plot forward, while displaying little of the tendency toward authorial manipulation that's the hallmark of a less confident writer.

Robin Kirman's Bradstreet Gate is an assured first novel, one that showcases a promising talent with a command of all the tools necessary for delivering compelling stories in the future. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Robin Kirman's first novel follows three Harvard students through their college careers and the 10 succeeding years, exploring how the aftermath of a classmate's murder shadows their lives.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Patience and Fortitude, Libraries & Revelations

I like revelations. As I read Scott Sherman's Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate and the Fight to Save a Public Library, it occurred to me that I had sincerely believed I was paying attention to an important controversy as it played out over the past several years. What I'd actually done was read occasional media coverage of the New York Public Library's proposed Central Library Plan, which the author describes as a "wide-ranging reconfiguration of services" that "had been born in June 2007 and was announced to the public nine months later at a little noticed press conference." 

Because some of the most critical decisions regarding the CLP were reached behind closed doors, the issue tended to drift in and out of my field of news-vision. Fortunately, some people cared deeply and for the long haul. Sherman's book eloquently chronicles the back-room scheming and eventual blowback protests.

The CLP's goal was to consolidate three midtown libraries "into one colossal circulating library inside the 42nd Street building, which would undergo a $300 million renovation by Norman Foster, the British architect," Sherman writes. In addition to selling off two valuable properties (the Mid-Manhattan branch library on 40th Street and the Science, Industry and Business Library on 34th), NYPL would remove "the entire collection of [three million] books from the iron and steel stacks inside the 42nd Street building and send them to an offsite storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey."

Sherman first brought the issue to the public's attention in 2011, when he was asked by the Nation magazine to write a profile of incoming NYPL president Anthony Marx. "Today, top NYPL officials talk about the CLP--announced in late 2008 but delayed by the economic downturn--as a done deal," Sherman noted in the piece. "But Marx says the NYPL's powerful board of trustees has not yet given its final stamp of approval; he adds that he is still analyzing the plan."

Scott Sherman
(photo: Emrah Gurel)

In a recent e-mail exchange, Sherman told me: "Indeed, the recession of 2008 was crucial in derailing the plan for about 3-4 years. If not for the Great Recession, it is very possible that the Foster renovation might have been completed by the time Bloomberg left office."

Patience and Fortitude reads at times like a suspense novel for bibliophiles, with power and big money acting unilaterally until being challenged by citizen's groups, prominent architects (and, notably, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable) and researchers; as well as an all-star cast of writers and celebrities including Salman Rushdie, Donna Tartt, Gloria Steinem, Mario Vargas Llosa, Tom Stoppard, Garrison Keillor, Malcolm Gladwell, Ann Patchett and Susan Sarandon.

Did the CLP backers assume the deal could be railroaded through as long as the public--and NYPL's staff--was kept in the dark as much as possible while decisions were made? "Yes," Sherman replied. "This is not in the book, but an NYPL staff member told me in 2012: 'We were made to feel old and against change.' A few trustees did call for open discussion at the start, but they were greatly outnumbered. The mission was to stifle discussion and get this thing done before anyone could stop them."

He added: "The takeaway for those who didn't follow the debate too much is that the public should be consulted before libraries and museums launch $500 million construction projects."

What I love about Patience and Fortitude is the way it coalesces all of the disparate bits of information I'd gathered over the years, adds pertinent facts I knew nothing about, and then offers readers the whole story. Sometimes narrative arcs are clearly visible only in retrospect.

And while there are plenty of villains in this tale, heroes abound as well. "Katz had an emotional attachment, colored by romanticism, to the library at 42nd Street," Sherman writes, describing legal historian (and much more) Stanley Katz, who co-authored a key protest letter shortly after Sherman's 2011 Nation article appeared. 

How rare, I asked, is it for "emotional attachment, colored by romanticism" to win a battle over power and money? "Activism is about deep passion," Sherman said, "and the critics were deeply, deeply passionate about the fate of NYPL in general and the 42nd Street building in particular."

Patience and Fortitude is, in its way, a complex love story about "an institution that mattered to me personally," as Sherman notes in his preface. It is also, as he observes in the final chapter, the tale of "a brawl about democracy, architecture, and, crucially, the role of books in the digital age." The ending is a little bittersweet, but so is the world, even on its best days. The book itself is revelatory. And I like revelations. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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