Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 23, 2015

Simon Pulse: Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett

Workman Publishing: We Are Called to Be a Movement by William Barber

IDW Publishing: The Mueller Report: Graphic Novel by Shannon Wheeler and Steve Duin

Getty Publications: Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life by Brigitte Benkemoun, translated by Jody Gladding

Random House: How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Mira Books: The Lost Orphan by Stacey Halls

Custom House: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Poisoned Pen Press: Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney


Update: Savoy Bookshop & Café Opening in Early 2016

Architect's rendering of the new Savoy Bookshop and Cafe (courtesy Leslie Architects)

In its e-mail newsletter yesterday, Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., shared this update on the development of the new Savoy Bookshop and Café in Westerly, R.I.: "Because of the complexity of renovating an old building and the vision we all have for Savoy Bookshop and Café, we are now looking at a February 2016 opening date. There will be a pop-up cafe at the site during the Westerly Holiday Stroll on December 2, so please visit us there! We are so excited to be a part of Westerly, and in the interim, we are partnering to host events at the Westerly Library, Cottrell Brewing and other Westerly organizations."

Berkley Books: Eliza Starts a Rumor by Jane L. Rosen

Romance-only Bookstore to Open in Los Angeles

On October 20, sisters Bea and Leah Koch launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $90,000 toward the opening of the Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore in Los Angeles, Calif. The sisters have a tentative opening date of early April 2016 and have begun scouting locations in L.A.'s Culver City neighborhood. Within the first 48 hours, the Kickstarter raised more than $40,000 from close to 250 backers.

Leah (l.) and Bea Koch, with their future bookstore's logo.

"We thought, this is a huge hole in the bookselling world--there's no store that does this," said Leah Koch. Neither sister has prior experience in bookselling, but Leah, the younger of the two, does have an entrepreneurial background. When she was 18, she started operating her own food truck in Chicago, and she currently makes quilts that she sells on Etsy. She is also, needless to say, an avid reader of romances.

"As a romance enthusiast it can be difficult to find what you're looking for," added Bea Koch, who has a background as a rare book librarian and is an aspiring romance novelist herself. "We're hoping to fill that hole."

Leah and Bea began seriously discussing opening a business together approximately a year ago, and once they hit on the idea of opening a bookstore, they knew they had it. And it was never a question of what kind of bookstore it was going to be: from the get-go they wanted to open a romance-only bookstore. Their plan is for the majority of the inventory to be romance novels for adults, but to also have a healthy amount of teen and YA romance. Though they have yet to finalize a space, they feel that something in the neighborhood of 1,600 square feet would be ideal.

"We want a decent amount of space," said Leah. "Events are a really important part of our plan."

Ripped Bodice swag for Kickstarter supporters.

The sisters have more in mind for the community than just the traditional author event and signing. Among the ideas that they've floated are viewing parties for shows like The Bachelor and Outlander, book clubs and a film festival featuring every movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. There will also be a romance book of the month club called the Minerva Library: subscribers will be sent that month's book in the mail, along with a small surprise such as a necklace or notepad. They'd also like to host more serious panels and discussions, such as events where younger readers could come in and talk with young adult and new adult authors about sex and sexuality. Said Leah: "It's very important to us that romance novels portray safe and consenting sex in healthy relationships."

"We want to provide a community gathering space," said Bea. "There's no single gathering place for [romance readers]. That's what we hope to be: a gathering place for this community."

At the moment, Bea and Leah plan to carry only new books, but they'd consider carrying some used books if they have enough space. As for non-book items, they plan to stock as much jewelry, textiles, artwork and greeting cards made by local artists and craftspeople as their square footage allows. Said Leah: "One of our missions for the store is to provide women with the opportunity to profit from creativity."

As romance readers, Leah and Bea are excited, they said, to have a whole store with which to work. At most bookstores, Bea Koch explained, romance novels are shelved together regardless of genre. But with so much space at their disposal, the sisters will be able to dive deep into genres and subgenres that most often get overlooked. There will be sections for historical and contemporary romances, but the best example, Bea said, is the broad category of paranormal romances.

"We can refer you specifically to the witches section, or the fairies," she continued. "Whatever you're looking for, we can direct you there."

To help their crowdfunding campaign reach its goal, Bea and Leah have been reaching out to romance authors as well as the incredibly passionate community of romance readers. They've also come up with some compelling backer rewards, including shirts, hats and quilts with the store's logo and phrases like "Purveyors of Fine Smut" and "Smart Girls Read Romance" on them.

And so far, the sisters have been thrilled with both the reception to the Kickstarter and the response in Culver City.

"There's inherent value in just having a brick-and-mortar store," said Bea. "There's really a sense of pride for a community to support an independent bookstore." --Alex Mutter

Third Man Books: Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas

Amazon Turns a Profit; Prime Now Adds Cities

In the third quarter ended September 30, net sales at Amazon rose 23.2%, to $25.4 billion, and net income was $79 million, compared to a net loss of $437 million in the same period a year earlier.

Because analysts had predicted a loss and because revenue was $500 million more than expected, Amazon shares rose almost 10%, to $617 a share, in after-market trading.

As the New York Times wrote, while revenues have "grown strongly and consistently" in the past several years at Amazon, "profits have often been minimal or nonexistent as the company has kept investing, building over 100 fulfillment centers around the world, pouring money in sectors as disparate as India and video, and expanding its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services." Thus, the positive reaction to yesterday's news.

The web services division is a major factor in Amazon's strong performance: its sales rose 79%, to $2.09 billion, and its operating income was $521 million. Without this fast-growing cloud storage operation, "Amazon's results might have dismayed investors instead of thrilling them," the Times said.

Amazon predicted that sales in the fourth quarter--the holiday season--will rise 14%-25% over the same period last year.


Amazon's Prime Now one-hour delivery service has expanded to San Antonio, Tex., as well as California's Bay Area. Most San Francisco and San Jose neighborhoods are included, with more areas in Palo Alto and throughout Silicon Valley expected to be added soon. Prime Now operates in 17 metropolitan areas worldwide.

In addition, Amazon's list of cities qualifying for Prime Free Same-Day Delivery on qualifying orders over $35 now includes Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Northern New Jersey and new ZIP codes in New York City and Philadelphia.

Catapult: Magnetized: Conversations with a Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued, translated by Samuel Rutter

Hachette's Fourth Annual Book Club Brunch Draws a Crowd

L.-r.: Hachette authors Stefany Shaheen, Kate Mulgrew and Elizabeth Alexander

Hachette Book Group's fourth annual Book Club Brunch took place last Saturday, October 17, in Hachette's New York City offices. Some 180 booksellers, librarians and book club members attended panels with eight Hachette authors from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The $45 admission included brunch, a tote bag and a selection of free books.

Gretchen Young, Grand Central v-p and executive editor, moderated the panel on narrative nonfiction. Authors Elizabeth Alexander (The Light of the World; Grand Central), Kate Mulgrew (Born with Teeth; Little, Brown) and Stefany Shaheen (Elle & Coach; Hachette) read excerpts and answered questions from the audience.

During brunch, featured speaker Maria Semple (Where'd You Go, Bernadette?; Little, Brown) held a "Center Stage" event where she talked about motherhood, her relationships, inspiration and how to write scripts.

L.-r.: Roxanne Coady, with Susan Jane Gilman, N.K. Jemisin and Jennifer E. Smith.

Roxanne Coady, president and CEO of R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn., moderated the afternoon fiction panel. Susan Jane Gilman (The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street; Grand Central), N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season, Orbit) and Jennifer E. Smith (Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between; Little, Brown Young Readers) discussed, among other topics, differences between their genres of choice, from speculative fiction to YA.

Lee Boudreaux, v-p and editorial director of Lee Boudreaux Books, moderated the final event--a book club discussion of Elizabeth Poliner's As Close to Us As Breathing (Lee Boudreaux) with the author on hand. Attendees received advanced copies of the novel, which comes out March 15, 2016. Signed copies of books by featured authors were available from R.J. Julia Booksellers after each event.

Rick Riordan Presents: Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (a Sal and Gabi Novel, Book 2) by Carlos Hernandez

Query Books' Campaign Is a 'Kickstarter Staff Pick'

The crowdfunding campaign for start-up publisher Query Books, whose mission is to "find and reprint lost or forgotten LGBT books that are classics, of historical interest or just well-loved," has been named a Kickstarter Staff Pick. In its recent newsletter, Query Books introduced via video some of "the volunteers who are working on the campaign," and featured another video from Masen Davis, former executive director of the Transgender Law Center, "supporting the importance of making LGBT books available as widely as we can."

Query Books was launched earlier this year by industry veteran Ken White, the former manager of San Francisco's Books Inc. in the Castro, who first worked at A Different Light Bookstore in the Castro, followed by San Francisco State University Bookstore. He has served on the boards of the American Booksellers Association and the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, and is currently on the board of directors of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Voter File by David Pepper

Obituary Notes: Paul West; Harriet Klausner

Paul West, a "prolific novelist, essayist and critic with an ornate prose style, who managed to write again after a severe stroke reduced his Shakespearean vocabulary to a single syllable," died Sunday, the New York Times reported. He was 85. West, who wrote more than 35 books, chronicled his illness in a 2008 memoir The Shadow Factory; as did his wife, author Diane Ackerman, in her 2011 book One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage and the Language of Healing.


Harriet Klausner, a book reviewer and newspaper columnist who at one time was the #1 ranked reviewer on until the company changed its ranking system, died October 15. She was 63. A former librarian with a master's degree in library science, Klausner was proficient in speed-reading.

Red Wheel: The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have (20th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Nepo, foreword by Jamie Lee Curtis


Image of the Day: Ringo at Indigo

Legendary rocker Ringo Starr of The Beatles discussed fame, the joy of music and his new photographic memoir, Photograph (Genesis Publications), with Indigo CEO Heather Reisman at Indigo Bay & Bloor in Toronto earlier this week.

(Photo: Shan Qiao)

Storey Publishing: The Illustrated Crystallary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Magical Gems and Minerals (Wild Wisdom) by Maia Toll

Jays vs. Royals: Librarians' Twitter Trash Talk

The MLB baseball playoff series between the Blue Jays and Royals "isn't over yet, and neither is the war of words between the Toronto and Kansas City public libraries," the Star reported, noting that librarians from each city "got into a scrap on Twitter over whose team will win the American League Championship Series."

After the Jays' 7-1 win Wednesday, the Toronto Public Library tweeted, "Amazing job,@BlueJays!!!! That brings us to Round 2," accompanied by a photo of stacked books, their title spines reading: "The Comeback/ Blue Jays/ Blowout/The Royals/ Come Together."

Kansas City librarians quickly responded ("Tis but a flesh wound!") with: "The Bad Guys Won!/ Home Team Advantage/ Forever Blue."

The book game is definitely on.

Aspen's Explore Booksellers a 'Hive of Cultural Activity'

In the months since new owners rescued Explore Booksellers, Aspen, Colo., the bookshop "has become a hive of cultural activity," the Aspen Times reported. After Doug Phelps and his investors from the Public Interest Network bought the business last January, they contacted Ann Powers to help book literary programming.

The bookstore, which was once "a hub of local culture," had seen its events taper off in recent years as the previous owners faced financial difficulty. But Powers started the quest to reverse that trend by asking people what they wanted to see going on in the shop. "I went out and met the staff, and everyone was so excited about the new ownership and all the things we can do at the bookstore--events, great readings, classes, workshops, literary parties," she said. "It's a big part of the community and has deep roots in the community.... We want to be a community center for interesting conversation and ideas."

Now Explore Booksellers, "quite suddenly since it appeared poised to for a scrape-and-replace development, has taken on a salonlike vibrancy," the Aspen Times wrote.

Personnel Changes at Hachette, Scholastic

At Hachette Book Group:

Heather Fain, who has been senior v-p, director of marketing strategy for the Group and deputy publisher at Little, Brown, will focus on her position as senior v-p, director of marketing strategy and is joining the Group's executive management board.

Effective December 1, Craig Young is becoming v-p, deputy publisher of Little, Brown. He is currently v-p, associate publisher at Ecco. Earlier he spent 14 years in sales at Hachette (formerly Time Warner), where he was most recently sales director at Little, Brown.

Miriam Parker is being promoted to marketing director at Little, Brown, which she joined in 2010. She was instrumental in launching both Mulholland Books and Lee Boudreaux Books.


At Scholastic Trade:

Lori Benton has been promoted to v-p, digital publisher and president of Weston Woods and Scholastic Audio. She was previously group publisher.

Duryan Bhagat-Clark is promoted to senior director, frontlist planning and managing editor of audio and Weston Woods. She was previously director, frontlist planning.

Leslie Garych has been named v-p, managing editor. She was previously v-p, marketing operations.

Anne Henderson is promoted to senior director, planning and operations. She was previously director, business planning.

Tracy Mack has been promoted to v-p, publisher, Scholastic Inc. She was previously executive editor.

Charisse Meloto has been promoted to v-p, publicity brand strategy. She was previously executive director.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Patti Smith on Fresh Air

Today on Fresh Air in a repeat from 2010: Patti Smith, whose new book is M Train (Knopf, $25, 9781101875100).


Tomorrow on CNN's Michael Smerconish: Joe Klein, author of Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home (Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781451677300).


Sunday on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace: Bob Woodward, author of The Last of the President's Men (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501116445).


Sunday on Watch What Happens Live: Amber Rose, author of How to Be a Bad Bitch (Gallery, $28, 9781501110115).


Sunday on the Cooking Channel's Ro's Tasty Treats: Rosanna Pansino, author of The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us (Atria, $29.99, 9781501104015).

TV: Think Like a Man

Fox is developing Think Like a Man as a comedy series executive produced by comedian Steve Harvey and based on his bestselling book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy and Commitment. reported that Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who wrote the movie scripts for Think Like a Man (2012) and sequel Think Like a Man Too (2014), will also pen the TV adaptation and executive produce.

Books & Authors

Awards: Saltire Literary Shortlists

Shortlists have been announced for the 2015 Saltire Literary Awards, which are given to "books by living authors of Scottish descent or residing in Scotland or the book subject must be the work or life of a Scot or with a Scottish question, event or situation." Category winners, who will be announced November 26, each receive £2,000 (about $3,080), and then compete for the £6,000 (about $9,240) Saltire Society Book of the Year Award. You can see the complete Saltire shortlists here.

Book Brahmin: Ron Childress

Ron Childress began publishing short stories in the 1980s. The manuscript of his debut novel, And West Is West, won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and was published by Algonquin Books on October 13, 2015. He originally planned to teach English literature and write fiction, but changed his career path after a year as a college adjunct. Moving from Florida to Washington, D.C., he worked as a writer/editor for a professional association and then as a copywriter/technical writer/programmer for a marketing company that served high-tech clients. And West Is West focuses on secrets--family, corporate, and military--and how they can go toxic. It also dramatizes how the technology can distance us from personal responsibility and enable destructive behavior.

On your nightstand now:

On my nightstand is Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Four. The series is addictive, and I simply capitulated and set aside the time for it. On my nightstand's electronic device is Gustave Flaubert's L'Éducation sentimentale; I read a page or two a day to exercise my minimal French. To fill my Stairmaster time at the gym, the audiobook of Bryan Burrough's Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence is giving me flashbacks to the bomb threats that regularly emptied my junior high school.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was a book that I enjoyed. The only child of a non-helicopter parent, I spent a lot of time reading, and books like Crusoe were my Friday. Also, I loved digging through our Funk & Wagnalls Universal Standard Encyclopedia and Yearbooks--I still have the set. It's a fascinating time capsule. The extensive entries on the literature of individual countries remind me of how central to our culture books, especially novels, used to be.

Your top five authors:

This list can change on any given day. Looking at my bookshelves right now, I am going to pick Henry James (my dissertation subject), Martin Amis (for his use of language), Doris Lessing (for the intensity of The Golden Notebook), Philip Roth (for his 1990s American trilogy) and J.M. Coetzee (for his austere descriptive power).

Book you've faked reading:

I'd be most likely to fib about Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. It's an urtext so culturally pervasive that I often forget that I've never actually read it. Every time I use the phrase "tilting toward windmills," I experience a twinge of remorse.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Just about anything by Roberto Bolaño. But because his 2666 is monumental and uncompromising, this is the book I would challenge a reader to try. What pulls you through is Bolaño's narrative power, which he applies most hypnotically in a long section dedicated to female sweatshop workers who end as victims of Mexico's drug war. Bolaño's introductory CSI-like descriptions are disturbing, but then he goes on to portray the victims' quite individual lives before their tragedies. Bolaño's narrative refuses to allow these maquiladora workers to be diminished into statistics.

Book you've bought for the cover:

An intriguing cover will certainly lead me to pick up a book in a bookstore and go on to read its blurbs and first pages, so it could be the starting point of an "I'm sold." An early book that sold me because of its cover was Bernadette Mayer's Memory. In my 20s, I must have identified with the wrap-around full-bleed images of young bohemian life. They have the same pull as the photographs in Nan Goldin's later The Ballad of Sexual Dependency--which, in fact, the stream-of-consciousness prose-poetry in Memory could illustrate. I also first picked up Goldin's Ballad, in a Miami bookstore, because of its cover.

Book you hid from your parents:

It was an anthology: The Olympia Reader, edited by Maurice Girodias. Filled with excerpts from once-banned works by Henry Miller, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, J.P. Donleavy and several other writers of mixed ambition, it offered a young person a stimulating introduction into the wide range of human behavior. Today, of course, the Internet answers this function.

Book that changed your life:

Lust for Life, Irving Stone's biographical novel of Vincent van Gogh. It's the book that inaugurated my abiding fascination with visual art--a fascination that developed so thoroughly I ultimately married an artist.

Favorite line from a book:

What reader can have just one favorite line, which are so often first lines: "Call me Ishmael." --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; "A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now." --Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow. Or they may be lines within a first chapter: "This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character." --Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer.

Outside of such classics, I would vote Zia Haider Rahman's In the Light of What We Know as having as high a percentage of quotable lines as any recent fiction. Here is one of my favorites: "Watching him vanishing into the multitude, I had the impression that this is what adult life consists of, encounters with people who are impermanent and want something, and that I, like everyone else, am only a cameo in the lives of others." Or how about, "Like apes knuckling down to a forest clearing to groom each other, they thronged to the drinks parties and dinner parties, the art openings and first nights." Or perhaps Rahman's concise explication of his title is my favorite: "Everything new is on the rim of our view, in the darkness, below the horizon, so that nothing new is visible but in the light of what we know."

Five books you'll never part with:

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, William Gaddis's The Recognitions, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Adolescent, James Joyce's Ulysses, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago are books I consumed in my late teens to early 20s, and which I think about fondly, and which I happily display on my bookshelves as early reading accomplishments.

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

Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Although, whenever I read the opening lines about Aureliano Buendía's first encounter with ice, the chill of pleasure is so great that I almost feel as if I am reading it for the first time.

Book Review

Review: Letters to Véra

Letters to Véra by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd (Knopf, $40 hardcover, 9780307593368, November 3, 2015)

Véra Nabokov was the wife and assistant to the great Russian expatriate novelist Vladimir Nabokov. She was his closest confidante and adviser, and his grandest love. Almost all of these previously unpublished Letters to Véra are from the years 1923 to 1950, throughout their courtship and the first and most difficult half of their marriage. After that, during the years of Vladimir Nabokov's greatest literary fame, they were rarely separated and had no need to correspond.

The earliest letters in particular are wonderfully expressive, full of gorgeous imagery, dialogues and "imaginary nonsense." In 1926, Véra went to a sanatorium to be treated for anxiety, depression and weight loss, and Vladimir wrote to her almost every day. Those letters are flooded with his ardent love, and perhaps with his concern to entertain her and lift her mood. "I more than adore you. You are my happiness and life. When I think about you, I get so happy and light, and since I think about you always, I'm always happy and light." He playfully records his meals and activities, showers her with jokes, innuendoes and precisely observed compliments, creates puzzles for her to solve and invents different "little critters" for each of his salutations--"pusschen," "little old man," "Goosikins," "Poochums," "my sweet little legs."

In early 1937, Vladimir had a serious affair, and for a while his endearments alternate with impatience and irritation. Later letters are more calm and businesslike, but full of love and description. "It's warmer today, the snow more sugary, the sky has a Menton tone, and everywhere in the building the sun is trying to draw circles or squares. Et je t'aime. I feel onderful (I had the cigarette holder between my teeth)--I feel wonderful, smoking less, because it's not allowed in most rooms here." He adds funny sketches and postscripts in block print to their young son, and periodic reassurances of his fidelity: "They placed me in the actors' dorm (in the male wing I love you)."

Letters to Véra was edited by Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd and translated with sensitivity and skill by Olga Voronina. Boyd introduces the volume with a long satisfying biographical essay on the Nabokovs' marriage, the pair's personal qualities and what he feels the letters reveal about them. In a translator's preface and in some of the endnotes, Voronina describes the challenges presented by Nabokov's word play across multiple languages, his puzzles and quirks of style. Thorough annotation, an excellent index, a biographical timeline and many photographs and reproductions of letter excerpts round out a book that will be a joy to both scholars and literary fans. --Sara Catterall

Shelf Talker: Novelist Vladimir Nabokov's brilliant and loving letters to his wife and assistant, Véra, illuminate their long devoted marriage and provide fresh perspectives on the author.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Pew Report--'The Kids Are All Right'

"When it comes to reading books, the kids are all right. But the rest of us have some work to do," Jacket Copy observed in reaction to new survey results released this week by the Pew Research Center.

This is what we're up against: 72% of American adults have read a book within the past year, whether in whole or in part and in any format. That figure is down a bit from 2011 (79%) but is "statistically in line" with survey findings starting in 2012.

As they say in disaster movies just before the proverbial sh$% hits the fan, "There is no cause for alarm at this time." But, yes, the end is near, the sky is falling, it's an "emergency, everybody to get from street." Or is it?

Here's my favorite stat from the Pew survey: A "somewhat surprising generational pattern in book reading" emerged, with 80% of young adults (18 to 29 years old) having read a book, compared with 71% of those ages 30 to 49, 68% of those 50 to 64 and 69% of those 65 and older.

And here are some other Pew highlights:

  • 63% of American adults said they read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 69% who said the same the year before and 71% in 2011.
  • 27% read an e-book (down from 28% in 2014).
  • 12% listened to an audiobook, a figure that has remained stable.
  • 12 was the mean average and four the median number of books read in the previous year.
  • Women read 14 books on average, compared with nine by men, which Pew deemed "a statistically significant difference."
  • The "typical college graduate or someone with an advanced degree" read an average of 17 books in the previous year, compared with nine for high school grads and three for those who did not graduate from high school.
  • 27% of adults said they hadn't read any books over the past year, while 1% said they did not know or refused to answer.

If I worry about anything after seeing these numbers, it may be the folks among that 1% who didn't know whether they had read a book during the past year. Here's a hint (though they won't be reading this either): If you did not know, you did not read.

Maybe I should be more concerned with statistical declines in reading habits, but they don't scare me. In 2004, National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia announced the disheartening results of an NEA survey, including the news that people who said they had read fiction, poetry or plays dipped to 46.7% in 2002, down from 54% in 1992.

At the time, I wrote a blog post (later picked up by Bookselling This Week) in which I said that as a bookseller, "I live in a narrow corner of the universe where perhaps 90% of the people I converse with every day are readers by almost any definition of the term. The simple act of opening a bookshop's front door and walking in separates these people from the herd."

Still, I was actually amazed that 47% of Americans had read novels, plays and/or poetry. It seemed remarkable that we'd somehow managed to cling to a readership that high. "As to the dumbing down of young people that the NEA study seemed to imply, I can't imagine when this was not an issue in societies the world over," I wrote. "One imagines Og complaining to his wife a few thousand years ago that Og, Jr. showed no interest in making proper stone axes or painting accurately detailed woolly mammoths on the cave wall.

"Children have always been going to hell. The majority of my college classmates 30 years ago certainly exhibited no mass interest in reading for pleasure, at least none that was apparent to me at the time.... Statistics show... And yet, and yet, I work with young people at the bookstore all the time who read, who reflect, who think outside the cultural handcuffs of peer pressure and media influence."

What will become of our book readers?

In 1936, the New York Times reported that a nation-wide survey of reading habits conducted by Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the American Library Association found that only 30% of the the adult population "reads books, most of which are 'cheap' fiction, only a third representing the best in research, scholarship and creative ability.... In the country as a whole it was found that each person reads fewer than four books a year."

The distractions of modernity are everywhere. Why, just 162 years ago the Times cautioned: "It would be better, perhaps, if the solid, coherent substance of erudite books were more the vogue; and all subjects were studied profoundly and systematically. But not such is the order of the day.... The call for magazines--quarterly, monthly and daily--will therefore continue with increasing activity, answering to the accelerated progress of the world in civilization and its incidents."

I agree with Jacket Copy. The kids are all right, though it looks like Boomers, my generation, could stand to flip a few more pages each year. Readers, however, are not an endangered species. There's no need for everybody to get from street. Unless, of course, it's to go back inside and read a great book. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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