Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 18, 2015

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens

Forge: Mr Katō Plays Family by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated by Caroline Froh

Ballantine Books: The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

Island Press: The Jewel Box: How Moths Illuminate Nature's Hidden Rules by Tim Blackburn

Berkley Books: Business or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Berkley Books: The First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Texas Bookman Presents Texas Remainder Expo

Minotaur Books: Deadlock: A Thriller (Dez Limerick Novel #2) by James Byrne

Quotation of the Day

Holiday Bookselling: 'An Honor. A Privilege. A Blast'

"It is the second busiest week of the year in our little bookstore. Anyone who works retail knows this can mean many things. Not only are all of us in the thick of our own personal holiday planning and shopping, we are concierges and confidantes for countless others who are doing the same. Some are old friends. Some are just passing through. Some have easy requests, others have no idea how unlikely or challenging their book/wrapping/mailing needs are. Everyone is in a heightened state. We are usually powered by sugar and caffeine. This is my 42nd bookstore holiday. How I am processing the stress has changed.

I realized as I threaded my way home through the obstacle course of detours and construction tonight that I am profoundly grateful for all of it. The would be author with the huge ego and bigger demands. The women who pull out every kids' book and throw them everywhere but don't leave til they have enough for a huge group of needy kids. The person with a title he is sure exists but only in his imagination. The gift wrapping. The year end requests for money. I am so grateful to have been able to be in a public space for 4 decades that serves readers. It is full of intelligent surprises, ridiculousness, new experiences, stories stories stories. So many gifts in this job. Yes I get overwhelmed and tired. We all do. But there isn't a more interesting place to be in December. I am grateful for everyone who takes the time to walk through our front door. An honor. A privilege. A blast."

--Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., in a Facebook post

William Morrow & Company: Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs


Volumes Bookcafe to Open in Chicago

Volumes Bookcafe will open early next year in a 2,800-square-foot space at 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Rebecca George, co-owner of the Wicker Park neighborhood business with her sister Kimberly, said they will operate "a general bookstore (90% new and 10% used) in this very vibrant and busy neighborhood. We've added a cafe, with local roasters and baked goods, local beer and a variety of wine. We've also created an open and adjustable space for community events of all sizes. We can't wait to open."

They are currently in the midst of $20,000 Indiegogo campaign to fund a secondary HVAC system to the space as well as an upgrade to the main water line to the building ("While we expected a great number of things with this beautiful 1883 building, we were not anticipating these last two hurdles."). You can also follow Volumes Bookcafe's journey toward opening day on Twitter at @volumesbooks.

William Morrow & Company: A Death in Denmark: The First Gabriel Præst Novel by Amulya Malladi

Indie Bookstore to Replace Porn Shop in Anchorage

In Anchorage, "peep show booths in the last and nastiest sex shop on Spenard Road will soon make way for a trendy independent bookshop with folk singers, craft-brewed beer and multiethnic food," the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

Vered Mares and Kathy McCue, co-owners of the Writer's Block Bookstore & Café, will offer the cleaned, repainted and re-carpeted space to artists and musicians this winter, then demolish the building in the spring to make way for a new, 2,500-square-foot space, which should open next fall. Pending a construction loan, the new building will go up over the summer, with room for books, a stage and café.

The owners recalled first "coming in to look at the building when it was still operating as another kind of bookstore. Informed that employees didn't know about a potential sale, they tried to be inconspicuous as a group of five in business suits," the Dispatch News wrote.

"We walked in together and then we stood still," Mares recalled. "How do we pretend we're customers?

"How do we contain the giggles?" McCue said.

"We failed miserably," Mares said, adding: "After I saw what this place was, I just wanted to get rid of it. A community needs to have healthy spaces."

AuthorBuzz for the Week of 02.06.23

Rowman & Littlefield Buying Stackpole Books

Rowman & Littlefield is buying the assets and liabilities of Stackpole Books, which specializes in nonfiction military, nature and outdoor sports titles. All Stackpole orders through April will be processed through its warehouse in Mechanicsburg, Pa., after which fulfillment will move to National Book Network, R&L's distribution arm, in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

"Stackpole is a storied publisher with an enthusiast publishing program that perfectly complements Globe Pequot's unique market position," said Jim Childs, publisher of Globe Pequot, R&L's trade division. "The resulting combination gives Globe Pequot, Lyons Press and Stackpole a dominant market position across several genres, most notably the outdoor, fly fishing and military history categories."

Stackpole Books began as Stackpole Sons in 1930. In 1959, it merged with Military Service Publishing Company to become Stackpole Books. M. David Detweiler IV, the founder's grandson, served as president of the company from 1980 until his death in 2014. Stackpole publishes 90 new titles every year and has a backlist of about 1,000, including the Army Officer’s Guide, a bestseller in its 52nd edition.

"In Rowman & Littlefield, we have found a publisher that can operate Stackpole in the way our late president and chairman, David Detweiler, did, with respect for our eight decades of traditions and innovations," said Stackpole's chairman of the board John Granatino. "We look forward to this next chapter for the Stackpole imprint."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Killing Me by Michelle Gagnon

PRH's #GiveaBook Campaign Ups Donation Goal

Penguin Random House's #GiveaBook campaign, a social-media based initiative to promote books as gifts and give back to children in need during the holiday season, has inspired more than 34,500 #GiveaBook hashtags and posts registered to date, prompting the publisher to raise the original donation limit from 35,000 to 50,000. For every use of the hashtag #GiveaBook on Twitter and in posts to the GiveaBook, PRH and Givington Facebook pages through December 24, PRH will donate one book to the literacy nonprofit First Book

Texas Bookman Presents Texas Remainder Expo

Obituary Note: Peter Dickinson

British author Peter Dickinson, who "wrote almost 60 books which have been translated into 53 different languages and was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2009," died December 16, BBC News reported. He was 88. Dickinson was the first person to win the Carnegie medal twice and was nominated for the prestigious medal nine times, including his last book, In the Palace of the Khans. He was the first and thus far only author to win the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger award for two consecutive novels: Skin Deep in 1968 and A Pride of Heroes in 1969.

Sourcebooks Young Readers: Global: One Fragile World. an Epic Fight for Survival. by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano


Image of the Day: Ugly Holiday Sweaters

Misha D'Andrea and Chris Linendoll

Yesterday was Ugly Sweater Day at the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. General manager Nancy Scheemaker said it "was an idea suggested by our energetic bookselling staff. All I had to do was pick a date, take a breath and go along with it. The spirit of it is great--bringing a sense of whimsy, color and cheeriness to an otherwise dark and rainy bookselling day."

Events for the Season: 'From the Traditional to the Unique'

Independent booksellers "are letting their creative streaks show this holiday season with a wide array of fun activities and special promotions," Bookselling This Week reported in its roundup of notable indie events.

The initiatives ranged from a children's Hanukkah party at the Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., to a Christmas-themed version of the popular new "Coloring and Cocktails" event at Duck's Cottage Downtown Books in Manteo, N.C.; from the "gift angel" gift program for local children in need at Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Mich., to bookseller Claudia Hook, dressed up as Mrs. Claus, playing holiday songs on her viola at Macdonald Book Shop in Estes Park, Colo.

Personnel Changes at Book Travelers West

Effective February 1, Kevin J. Peters will join Book Travelers West as sales rep in the Northern California territory, which includes Reno, Nev. At the same time, there are some territory shifts and adjustments. Phoebe Gaston is moving to the Mountain territory and will cover Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Hawaii. John Majeska will serve Southern California, Las Vegas, Nevada and Arizona. Kurtis Lowe will represent Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

For 11 years, Kevin Peters represented Macmillan/Holtzbrinck to independent bookstores in Northern California and the Sierra Nevada and before that worked with Bayside Entertainment, the wholesale distributor sister company to Tower Records and Books/MTS Inc., and at three Books Inc. locations in the Sacramento area. Since 2012, he has had his own company, Peters Literary Media, providing publicity support, media escorting/author transportation, planning assistance and consultation for author tours in Northern California.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Bill Madden on the Jim Bohannon Show

Jim Bohannon Show: Bill Madden, author of 1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever (Da Capo Press, $15.99, 9780306823695).

TV: American Lion

HBO has greenlighted American Lion, a six-hour event miniseries starring Sean Penn and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham, along with Robert V. Remini's biography of Jackson as additional source material, Deadline Hollywood reported. Narcos co-creators Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard are writing the script. Meacham will serve as a consultant on the project, set to start production next year.

Books & Authors

Book Brahmin: Marlon James

photo: Jeffrey Skemp

Marlon James was born in Jamaica in 1970 and is author of three novels. His most recent, A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead), won the 2015 Man Booker Prize, the American Book Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize for fiction, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean fiction and the Minnesota Book Award. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, Granta and Harpers. He lives in Minnesota and teaches at Macalester College.

On your nightstand now:

Mary Beard's S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome. Beard is great company, and this is a necessary addition/corrective to the field of Roman history, especially since we have a habit of constantly referring to Rome as the first golden age of civilization. Turns out they couldn't even figure out what to do with their own poop.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I remember it being the first book with more words than pictures that I stuck with anyway. I really thought it was an anti-picture conspiracy, these books with only words. My five-year-old self just couldn't figure out why anybody would want a book without pictures. Ridiculous. But I stuck with it, despite that atrocious flaw, and realized at the end that I kinda liked it. After that, I couldn't stop reading. A few years ago I was on a panel with an Iranian and a Vietnamese writer, and when asked this question, we all said Little House in the Big Woods. There might have been many reasons, but the main one was really that Wilder was such a world-famous author that her books were just the most likely to be in a library.

Your top five authors:

Toni Morrison, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Gabriel García Márquez, Mikhail Bulgakov and Virginia Woolf.

Book you've faked reading:

The Great Gatsby. Worse, my students caught me in the middle of the lie, when I said once, "Gatsby has the tone of melodrama. Like when Gatsby got hit by a car." One shy student said, "I think he was shot." I said, "Well... not in the version... in Jamaica!" It was a sad day.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters. It's the greatest novel on contemporary Jamaica ever written, and it's set in the Philippines. There are a few countries in the world that have a screwed-up-ness that's instantly recognizable to any person who lives in those countries. If you live in Jamaica, you understand the Philippines. If you live in Jamaica, you understand South Africa. It's hard to describe what it is exactly, but in terms of capturing the craziness and the beauty of the Caribbean, this book probably came the closest.

Book you've bought for the cover:

As a former graphic designer, I buy tons of books for the cover. I told Charles Bock when I met him that I loved his debut novel, Beautiful Children, but bought the British version because I didn't like the American cover. Same thing with Michael Chabon's and Amitav Ghosh's books. Chip Kidd turned me into a Murakami fan with his design for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Right now I have pretty much every single book that Knopf puts out for Jo Nesbø. I haven't read a single one as yet, but whoever that graphic designer is, he's on a roll. [Editor: It's Peter Mendelsund.]

Book you hid from your parents:

Oh, I wouldn't call those things books. They had quite expressive pages though, packed with imagery and sensory detail.

Book that changed your life:

Toni Morrison's Sula. It's near the end of the book, and Sula is dying. Her best friend, Nel, still bitter at how Sula slept with her husband decades before, finally confronts her. Sula makes a point of showing how much better than everybody else she is, right up to the end, talking about how at least she lived life to the fullest, traveled here and there, and made a mark in the world. Nel, her anger changing into pity, says, "But what have you got to show for it?" I remember thinking, yeah Sula, what the hell do you have to show for it? Sula looks at Nel and says, "Show? To who?" I read that book at a particularly dark time in my life. So when Sula said those words, I shouted, screamed, cried, jumped off the chair. I recognized at that moment that I didn't have to shape myself for anybody's approval. I didn't have to validate myself to anybody. Honestly, those three words changed my life.

Favorite line from a book:

"It was a fine cry--loud and long--but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow." --from Sula by Toni Morrison.

Five books you'll never part with:

Song of Solomon and Sula by Toni Morrison, the Thor omnibus by Walter Simonson, A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul and American Tabloid by James Ellroy.

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

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.

Best book about writing:

Stephen King's On Writing. I like nuts and bolts approach to writing, and that's how I teach it. It's great that writing is a mystical communication with the spirits for some, but when I sit down to write, I sit down to work.

Book Review

Review: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Random House, $25 hardcover, 9780812988406, January 12, 2016)

In May 2013, Paul Kalanithi was an ambitious sixth-year resident in neurosurgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Twenty-two months later, he was dead at age 37 of lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is the frank and moving account of this young doctor's striving to excel in one of medicine's most demanding specialties while his life was shadowed by the terror of a terminal illness.

Kalanithi's memoir divides into two distinct narratives--first, about the road to early success in the medical profession, a journey that included a detour to obtain a master's degree in English literature from Stanford; the second is the tragic tale of his losing battle against cancer. As Abraham Verghese, a physician and talented writer (Cutting for Stone), notes in the book's foreword, Kalanithi brings to the telling of his story the gift of a graceful prose style that gives the book an almost novelistic quality.

Kalanithi's account of the "black hole that is neurosurgical residency" features familiar stories of 100-hour workweeks and the emotional stress brought on by the feeling of inadequacy at dealing with life-and-death decisions on a daily basis. Throughout, he struggles to resolve the tension between the demands of medical training and his humanistic values, voicing his nagging fear that he was "losing sight of the singular importance of human relationships... between doctor and patient."

One especially striking aspect of When Breath Becomes Air is the speed at which Kalanithi moves from the mental outlook of being a doctor to that of being a patient when he must face "the same existential quandaries my patients faced." As a physician, for example, he is reluctant to discuss with patients the often grim statistics of the Kaplan-Meier curve, which measures survival rates over time. Yet as a patient diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, he admits that "my relationship with statistics changed as soon as I became one." What remains consistent, however, even as he undergoes punishing rounds of chemotherapy, is his passion for the vocation that brought meaning to his life.

It's impossible to reach the end of this all-too-brief memoir, which includes a moving epilogue by Kalanithi's physician wife, Lucy, without mourning the loss of a brilliant, compassionate doctor, and wondering what contributions he might have made to medical science had he lived. Failing that, we can only be grateful that at least he's left behind the inestimable gift of this book. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Paul Kalanithi's memoir is an insightful, moving account of his medical training and of his losing fight with lung cancer.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: #SMSDTX--Refueling in Flight

Only seven more shopping days till Christmas (#SMSDTX). There is no cause for alarm... at this time.

Titcomb's Books dressed up for the holidays

Sure, the holiday retail season tries the patience and feet of the best booksellers. You're facing the usual requests to recommend books for people "who don't read much," and once again you find it amazing, even a little unsettling, to discover how many titles actually fit that category. You've probably adjusted to the holiday music playing incessantly over your shop's speakers, punctuated at regular intervals by semi-desperate calls for retail rescue ("Oh, Holy night, the--'We need help at the front service desk, please!'--of our dear savior's birth."). You've even made your peace with the fact that at least half of the customers who take advantage of your gift-wrapping service can't resist this friendly reminder: "Don't forget to take the price tags off!"

Christmas week: Need I say more? You are about to enter the wackiest stretch of the year for any bookseller. Okay... deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. You've been through this before. You can do it again.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this time of year is something I'll call "refueling in flight." Every day is a prime refueling day for bookstores during the holiday season, as customers take a hearty bite out of your stock (a good thing) and the staff scrambles to keep the sales floor looking fresh.

A book carton "fort" in the receiving area at Literati Bookstore on Wednesday

The beleaguered shipping and receiving department--which, in smaller bookshops, may well be you--is swamped with stacks and stacks of boxes, incoming as well as outgoing. Deliveries are sorted in a frenzied, triage-like prioritizing exercise. The pressure is intense to get those cartons opened, received and out to the sales floor for shelving immediately.

Imagine two jets connecting for a mid-air refueling. It usually works, but it can still be a little scary.

Given the size of orders this time of year, an outsider might think you're constantly facing empty shelves and displays, but somehow everything runs smoothly (on the good days), so customers generally encounter a well-stocked and organized bookstore when they come in. Most booksellers abhor empty space, a personality quirk that comes in handy right now.

Brewster Book Store's festive decor.

When it all works, your staff moves in seamless choreography throughout the day. There's a lot at stake and refueling in flight is a tricky maneuver. Automatic pilot is not an option. You must rely on a lot of people--buyers, publishers, distributors, delivery companies, receivers and booksellers--doing their individual jobs with focus and coordination. It may seem chaotic at times to you, but damn it sure looks smooth and precise from a distance.

I suspect that most of your customers have only the slightest awareness of the team effort required to refuel in flight at full holiday speed. They see the loaded book carts and are aware of booksellers moving about quickly with armloads of stock. They know books don't shelve themselves. They also know, however, that you will immediately drop everything to help them find the right book, as if you had nothing else to do. They don't need to see the seams. That's part of the magic of bookselling.

Taking a break at Mitchell's Book Corner.

Yesterday's e-newsletter from BookPeople, Austin, Tex., summed it up nicely: "It's the last weekend before the big holiday. Do we look stressed? No way! This is the most fun time of the year. It's like having a non-stop house party. You all come to visit, we give you our favorite books for your favorite people, when the line gets long we hand out candy---everything is merry and bright!... We have books. We have socks. We have more stocking stuffers than we can fit into a single Instagram feed. We're here. We're helpful. We're caffeinated and we're ready to recommend all of the best books we read this year."

Your goal--largely unspoken even if you are acutely aware of it--is to present the bookshop to every customer who comes through the door, regardless of the time of day, as if you'd just finished preparing it for that person alone. And before you leave each night--even after a long, long, long day--you still try with your last reserves of strength (or at least the illusion thereof) to get the sales floor back in shape for tomorrow's opening. It isn't easy, but you'll make the magic happen day after grueling day until Christmas Eve. Refueling in flight may be rife with disastrous possibilities, but it's the only way to fly this time of year. So fasten your holiday bookseller seatbelt and enjoy the bumpy ride. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

AuthorBuzz: Berkley Books: Lemon Curd Killer (Tea Shop Mystery #25) by Laura Childs
AuthorBuzz: Nonlinear Publishing LLC: Moral Code by Lois and Ross Melbourne
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