Shelf Awareness for Monday, January 4, 2016

Hampton Roads Publishing Company: Becoming Baba Yaga: Trickster, Feminist, and Witch of the Woods by Kris Spisak, Foreword by Gennarose Nethercott

Dial Press: Like Mother, Like Mother by Susan Rieger

Severn House: A Messy Murder (Main) (The Decluttering Mysteries #4) by Simon Brett

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron

Running Press Adult: Scam Goddess: Lessons from a Life of Cons, Grifts, and Schemes by Laci Mosley

Chronicle Books: Taste in Music: Eating on Tour with Indie Musicians by Luke Pyenson and Alex Beeker


New Orleans's Maple Street Book Shop to Stay Open

New Orleans "literary landmark" Maple Street Book Shop, which announced in October that it would be closing, will remain open for at least part of 2016, if not longer. A message on the shop's website said: "To all our friends, thank you for your encouragement and support in response to the announcement that the Maple Street Book Shop would be closing at the end of the year. Your loyalty and commitment have made it possible for us to continue our efforts to remain in business in 2016."

Owner Gladin Scott credited the "overwhelming" support of loyal customers, a landlord willing to accept month-to-month rent payments and even people interested in investing in the business, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

"We announced we were closing the first of October, and the response was wonderful," he said. "Our business literally doubled in October, and it's remained strong in November and December." Scott added, however, that he couldn't commit to staying open longer than the first quarter of 2016. "I'm not in a financial position to make any promises. Sales have to be good enough to at least break even.... All of us here are really grateful for the response. People in New Orleans really appreciate businesses that have been part of the city for a long time."

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Holiday Clash: Northshire Responds to Book Challenge

One customer's threats prompted an outpouring of holiday spirit and community support for the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Just days before Christmas, an angry man verbally abused booksellers at both the Saratoga and Manchester Center, Vt., stores after seeing an illustrated Qur'an--American Qur'an, illustrated by Sandow Birk, recently published by Liveright--on display. He then threatened to do everything he could to put the Northshire out of business, including launching Internet rumors that the store was closing.

Northshire owner Chris Morrow responded with a Facebook post:

"In case our view on what we carry is not clear, let me explain--we are a bookstore that carries books of all types, of all political spectra, all religions, and all varieties. We exist to provide education, entertainment, and inspiration without bias. If terrorism succeeds in closing our minds off, terrorism has succeeded. No more shots need to be fired. If we are so insecure in our own basic goodness and faith that we can't tolerate, let alone appreciate, the display of 'other,' in whatever form, then we are terrorists ourselves; we are fighting jihad against the very open society that our country's founders fought so hard to establish."

The post quickly went viral, garnering more than 850 shares and over 500 comments. Supporters also responded with their patronage, online as well as in the store. "No book should be censored," customer Linda Taylor told WNYT. "That everyone is entitled to their belief and their access to those writings. So the fact that they're saying we will carry this and we won't be intimidated is the correct response, I believe."

"It turned out to be a positive experience in a number of ways," said Morrow. "It started a larger conversation online and in store about free speech and the role of bookstores. It garnered us a lot of good publicity and, more importantly, good will. It strengthened our commitment to making all variety of books available. It made us as a staff more aware of our role as purveyors of diverse and important books and, I think, made us proud to be on the front lines of open access to all forms of information, entertainment and art. And, we boosted sales!"

In a New Year's Day e-newsletter, Morrow observed: "I begin 2016 with renewed faith in bookselling and in the communities we serve.... Everyone at Northshire Bookstores was very heartened by the support and reinforcement we received from our communities. We feel honored to be a part of two such special places filled with such great people. Here's to a year of openness, tolerance and reading!"

GLOW: Sourcebooks Landmark: A Forty Year Kiss by Nickolas Butler

Bowing to Ignorance, Isis Books & Gifts Changes Signage

Isis Books & Gifts, Englewood, Colo., which suffered vandalism recently because some people associated the name with the terror group in the Middle East, has changed its main outdoor sign and advertising, deleting the reference to Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of "healing, magick, fertility and rebirth." Now the sign reads "Goddess Books & Gifts" and ads read "Goddess of 10,000 names." On at least several occasions, people had thrown rocks, breaking the sign.

"Why wave a flag in front of ignorant people who may react in such a negative way when we don't have to," owner Karen Charboneau-Harrison told CBS4, the local Denver station.

On its Facebook page, the store added, "All of you are so sweet to show concern and send your energy! We have changed our sign to a gorgeous one with a huge image of Isis and her most honorific title: Goddess of 10,0000 Names. You know who Goddess of 10,000 Names is, but we are deflecting the attention of folks who flunked their 6th grade basic mythology class (and have anger issues) away from us and our signage."

Staff still answer the phone using the phrase Isis Books & Gifts, which continues as the official name. As Charboneau-Harrison emphasized, the store has had the name for 35 years and Isis the Goddess goes back 3,500 years.

2015: A Very Merry Holiday Season

With Christmas in the rearview mirror and a new year begun, indies around the country are able to take stock. Among the highlights of the 2015 holiday bookselling season: peak buying happened later than ever at many stores; nonfiction stood out; sales were up, sometimes significantly; print books continue to grow as a thoughtful gift; and coloring books remain hot.

Tom Nissley

For Tom Nissley, owner of Phinney Books in Seattle, Wash., this holiday season was his store's second, and this year, the holidays didn't seem "quite so overwhelming," Nissley said, even though business was up 10%-15% over last year. The store was busy until around 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve before quieting down. Monday, the 28th, though, was surprisingly busy, and not just with returns: even after Christmas Phinney Books was running low on adult coloring books.

The store's biggest books of the summer and fall, H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, stayed strong through December, and Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe was also a hit. All four of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels continued to build and build during the fall, with My Brilliant Friend "flying out of the store" during the last month of the year. Mary Beard's SPQR; Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik's Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Patti Smith's M Train; Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road; and a local history, Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle's Topography by David Williams, all also picked up at the end of the year. Nissley added that in general, the store saw softer sales for cookbooks and fiction this year compared to last, with the 2014 bestsellers in those categories, Renee Erickson's A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories in cookbooks and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See in fiction, continuing as the strongest sellers in 2015.

The only title that Nissley had consistent trouble keeping in stock was Oliver Sacks's Gratitude. "I wasn't sure how high interest would be, since his memoir On the Move was still pretty new, and such a favorite of ours, but Gratitude was the one people kept coming in asking for," said Nissley. "We probably could have sold twice as many at least if we had it the whole season."

Jeremy Ellis

At Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Tex., general manager Jeremy Ellis said that although the store felt "completely dead" between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, daily sales sheets actually revealed strong sales. Among the store's bestselling titles for the season were Thing Explainer, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue Des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino (according to Ellis, everything with Paris on it sold well this year) and Bark by Lorrie Moore, while the store sold out of Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth just before closing on Christmas Eve. For children's books, Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins and Lilliput by Sam Gayton and Alice Ratterree did well.

Ellis noted that though everything seemed to move, some titles, such as Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire, sat on shelves for a long time before taking off during the week before Christmas. Magda Szabo's The Door, meanwhile, was difficult to keep in stock during the holiday rush, though it had in fact been a bestseller at Brazos for months before it took off nationally. And in terms of sidelines, jigsaw puzzles did so well for the store that Ellis is considering stocking them year round.

Despite being ahead in sales over the previous season, Ellis said that things seemed less frenzied in store. "There were not the crazed shoppers at the end," he said, though he wasn't sure if it was part of a general holiday slowdown. Over the past few seasons, he added, he's noticed that "people are buying books again. There's more interest in that. Our audience is growing, our customer base is evolving."

Janet Geddis and friend

At Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., things stayed busy until about mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, and sales were brisk on the day after Christmas. Owner Janet Geddis attributed that bump in part to many customers bringing in out-of-town family and friends. "It's typically a pretty fun day for us," said Geddis. "I'm grateful and pleased that the shop has stayed moderately busy even though the huge rush is over."

All the Light We Cannot See, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell were some of the store's bestselling fiction titles, while Between the World and Me, Thing Explainer and SPQR were standouts  in nonfiction. The store also did very well with some local titles, including an issue of the Oxford American about music in Georgia and Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chestnutt by Kristen Hersh. Humans of New York: The Stories by University of Georgia alumnus Brandon Stanton sold  strongly, while the Athens Coloring Book was the store's bestselling local book of the year.

Geddis reported that sales were up 15% in December and that the season was less stressful as well. "I have more staff members, and the bookseller in charge of making the schedule did a bang-up job of making sure we were covered well even during really busy times," she explained. Over the past few years, she added, she and her staff "seem to be getting a better handle on the shop traffic's ebbs and flows, and I think we, as a team, are doing a better job tying up loose ends and making sure we have what customers are looking for in stock. Overall, it was just as fun as ever but markedly less hectic since we were better prepared."

Jill Hendrix

At Fiction Addiction in Greenville, S.C., things have slowed down as owner Jill Hendrix and her staff get ready for inventory. Hendrix reported that her store was up slightly in November and December. Standout titles included signed copies of See Me by Nicholas Sparks, a coffee-table book called Greenville's Grand Design, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, signed copies of David McCullough's The Wright Brothers and signed editions of Welcome to Night Vale by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. Hendrix had little difficulty keeping books in stock, but she said that signed copies of David Spade's memoir Almost Interesting didn't perform as well as expected. On the non-book side of things, Peeramid bookrest pillows did well.

Despite being up this year for the holidays, Hendrix said she felt that aggressive Thanksgiving weekend sales by chain stores have had an effect on her business. She explained: "I feel with chains opening on Thanksgiving, our Black Friday is way down. Also, I think people shop more throughout the year and perhaps buy fewer presents."

Christine Onorati

Christine Onorati, the owner of WORD Bookstores in Jersey City, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y., reported that both stores had a great holiday season, with sales significantly up in each location. An improved non-book offering, Onorati added, greatly helped the bottom line. Though things slowed down after Christmas, Onorati ran a New Year's Day sale for the first time, with everything at both stores at 25% off. The reason for the sale, Onorati explained, was to clear the way for inventory on January 4.

Between the World and Me, the Illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Gratitude and My Brilliant Friend all proved to be popular holiday sellers, as did signed copies of M Train. Coloring books, including The Mindfulness Coloring Book by Emma Farrarons and Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford, also performed well. Onorati also had trouble keeping The Mindfulness Coloring Book, Harry Potter Coloring Book, The Notorious RBG and H Is for Hawk in stock throughout the season. Items from the Nostalgia Toys lines and Sock It to Me socks were popular non-book offerings.

"I think the balmy weather held people back from shopping too early this year, but honestly, that seems to be the trend most years," said Onorati, reflecting on the past few holiday seasons. "People just seem to shop later in bookstores."

Pam Cady

As an independent college bookstore, University Book Store in Seattle, Wash., is in a different position than many indies. Despite the holiday rush being over, the store is heading straight into the second semester rush in January.

"Our store traditionally remains busy during the month of January," said Pam Cady, manager of the general book department. "Of course, not the same kind of business in the trade book department as December, but still pretty brisk."

Almost all of University Book Store's top 10 titles for the holiday season were nonfiction, Cady said. The only fiction title to break the top 10, in fact, was All the Light We Cannot See. H Is for Hawk, Between the World and Me, Gratitude and Thing Explainer were also on that list. UBS's "sleeper hit," Cady said, was Paris in Winter by David Coggins, and coloring books moved briskly. And no matter the time of year, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a perennial bestseller.

"The big difference for us the last few years is that the last 10 days before Christmas is by far our busiest time," said Cady. "And the busy period gets shorter and shorter each year." --Alex Mutter

Gene Luen Yang Named Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Gene Luen Yang

Today, the Library of Congress will name Gene Luen Yang national ambassador for young people's literature, the New York Times reported. He will be the first graphic novelist to hold the post since it was created in 2008 and will serve a two-year term.

The author of American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints and The Shadow Hero, Yang told the Times: "When I was coming up in the '90s, the comic book industry and the book industry were largely separate--they had their own awards, distribution systems and stores. [Now] these worlds are really converging in interesting ways."

See his July 2014 Book Brahmin with us here.

Obituary Note: Mark Dressler

Mark Dressler

Mark Dressler, who worked for many years organizing educational programming at BookExpo America and the Frankfurt Book Fair, died on December 23 after a long battle with colon cancer.

Steven Rosato, event director of BEA, where Dressler was director of education from 1997 to 2011, said, "Mark left an indelible mark on BEA as well as the industry. He foresaw the impact that e-books would have on publishing and was ahead of the curve in highlighting key digital issues within BEA's conference program. More than anything, I will remember Mark for his depth: as much as he loved books, he could talk just as passionately about food and wine, hunting, politics or anything to do with being active outdoors, skiing, biking, running, etc. It is those wonderful conversations over dinner, with a wine that Mark always picked, after a long day at a trade show that I will remember most about Mark."

"What I remember and admire most about Mark is his enduring happiness," Hannah Johnson, publisher of Publishing Perspectives, wrote. "He always had a smile and kind words for the people around him, regardless of whether we had just worked a long, stressful day at a book fair or whether we were catching up over a good meal. His optimism didn't seem to waver, and his happiness never failed to lift my spirits. Mark worked hard, loved life and inspired others to do the same. We will miss him."

A food and wine enthusiast, he was part owner of Bon Vin, a wine shop in Traverse City, Mich. He also loved animals, cross-country skiing, cycling and swimming.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to Heartland Hospice and Cherryland Humane Society.


Mindy Kaling & Today Show Visit Skylight Books

Actress and author Mindy Kaling visited Skylight Books in Los Angeles for a Today Show segment "to share some of her favorite book picks of all time with us, including Bridget Jones's Diary; Inside Chef's Fridges, Europe; Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe and more."

On Facebook, Skylight posted: "Hello! Mindy Kaling at Skylight Books! Good times!"

Indie Customer Makes 'Penance, Reparations' Payment

In the mail shortly after the Christmas rush, Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, Wash., received a check for $94.89. The memo section of the check read: "Voluntary penance and reparations for buying books at A."

General manager Tracy Taylor commented: "While we've received anonymous and voluntary penance from past shoplifters, we've never received penance from Amazon shoppers. I contacted the customer to inquire further, and he said he felt very guilty about buying books for family on Amazon this year. The customer said he always tries to support us and buy books here, but he had a moment of weakness this year so he looked up the difference between the costs and decided to send us a check for the difference."

Paying it forward, Elliott Bay is using the "penance and reparations" money to buy and send books to Treehouse, a Seattle nonprofit that helps kids in foster care with basic needs and support.

'A Love Letter to Bookshops'

Dublin bookseller and poet Kerrie O'Brien wrote "a love letter to bookshops" for the Irish Times recently, describing how 'bookshops have been pivotal in my life.... People don't open independent or secondhand bookstores to make money--they do it because they love books and they love talking to people about them."

Kerri O'Brien

O'Brien noted that she works "in a large bookshop and I love it. But my main concern above all is that books are made accessible to people of all ages. As well as bigger shops and libraries, I feel that secondhand bookshops and small, independent, suburban ones such as Raven Books in Blackrock, the Rathgar Bookshop, the Village Bookshop in Terenure and countless more are vital for communities.

"So please keep buying books, keep reading them, keep talking about them and recommending them to others and make an effort to support your local bookshop, wherever it may be, so that we can keep the magic going."

Media and Movies

Masterpiece Launches Book Club

PBS's Masterpiece, the network's highest-rated prime time program, is melding screen and page with its Masterpiece Book Club, launched last Thursday, December 31. The club offers tie-in material for Masterpiece's hit series Sherlock and Downton Abbey, including reading lists, books the cast and crew are reading, British book news and themed recipes.

"Great books and storytelling are at the very heart of Masterpiece, and the book club will be a fantastic new way for our viewers to immerse themselves in the worlds our programs create," said Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton.

In one current feature, Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, who also plays Mycroft Holmes, reveals his favorite mystery authors and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Downton Abbey fans can find the show's literary inspirations, according to creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes. The site will be updated biweekly with new material based on Masterpiece's current shows.

Unlike the new club, which is tailored to individual online use, an earlier version of the Masterpiece Book Club, called Book & Film Club, provided material for libraries hosting in-person book and film clubs.

Media Heat: Ben Rawlence on Fresh Air

CBS This Morning: Dr. Louis J. Aronne, author of The Change Your Biology Diet: The Proven Program for Lifelong Weight Loss (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.99, 9780544535756).

Fresh Air: Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp (Picador, $26, 9781250067630).

The View: Rocco DiSpirito, author of The Negative Calorie Diet: Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 10 Days with 10 All You Can Eat Foods (Harper Wave, $27.99, 9780062378132).

CBS This Morning: Dr. David B. Agus, author of The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health (Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781476712109). He will also appear on Wednesday's episode.

The View: Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, co-authors of Been There, Done That: Family Wisdom For Modern Times (NAL, $27, 9780451466365).

Tavis Smiley repeat: Ringo Starr, author of Photograph (Genesis Publications, $50, 9781905662333). He will also appear on Wednesday's episode.

Books & Authors

Awards: Etisalat for Literature

The shortlist was announced for the third annual £15,000 (about $22,120) Etisalat Prize for Literature, which is open to debut fiction writers from African countries. The winner will be named in March. All shortlisted authors get a sponsored multi-city book tour and have 1,000 copies of their books purchased by Etisalat for distribution to schools, libraries and book clubs across the continent. NoViolet Bulawayo won the inaugural Etisalat Prize in 2013 for We Need New Names, while Songeziwe Mahlangu took the 2014 prize for Penumbra. This year's shortlisted Etisalat titles are:

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo)
The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself by Penny Busetto (South Africa)
What Will People Say? by Rehana Rossouw (South Africa)

Book Review

Review: The Narrow Door

The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship by Paul Lisicky (Graywolf Press, $16 trade paper, 9781555977283, January 19, 2016)

The Narrow Door is a striking memoir of love and loss by Paul Lisicky (Lawnboy; The Burning House). At its center are the life and death of Denise, Paul's longtime best friend; in parallel, Paul and his husband slowly pull apart and finally break up. The ups and downs of these two relationships define the story Lisicky tells, but they also give him space to muse on larger questions: the craft of writing, competition among writers, the meaning of love and events in the larger world.

Paul met Denise in the early 1980s, when they were both teaching assistants at Rutgers. They became fast friends, talking on the phone for hours, sharing the pain and joy of writing. Denise becomes a published novelist first, but Paul's later success threatens her. A tender passage about "Vincent" and Gauguin, about the painters' competitive feelings and their wrecked friendship, helps Paul deal with his struggle with instincts leaning both toward and away from competition with Denise. This is only one example of the wide range of Lisicky's subject: the Deepwater oil spill and the Haitian earthquake likewise influence his reactions to Denise's cancer diagnosis and other immediate concerns. Paul and Denise are Joni Mitchell fans, and their story is guided by her music. When a hotel in Atlantic City is demolished, Lisicky writes, "It comes down as a person would.... I take it personally." These disparate threads are tied together expertly, with tenderness, in careful prose.

Paul's husband, identified simply as M, is a successful poet and has his own, weaker friendship with Denise. He supports Paul when she dies, but soon after, the couple begin their drift apart. The Narrow Door employs a disordered chronology, in sections headed by year: 1983, when Denise and Paul's friendship is budding; 2008, when she dies; 2010, when Paul and M are at their rockiest; and times in between, as these relationships grow, change, climb and descend. When he fights with Denise, Lisicky considers losing a friend, as opposed to breaking up with a lover: "Sure, it might feel like rage, but aren't rage and love part of the same water?"

This is an artistic work, poetic and layered and carefully structured. The tangled sequence of events emphasizes the ever-changing nature of relationships and emotional reactions. Lisicky's tone is sometimes elegiac, sometimes gently humorous, and consistently introspective, questioning. The Narrow Door is not a long book; nonetheless, it requests the reader's measured consideration of language, pitch, philosophy and emotion. This portrait of a friend in all her complexities is lyrical, intellectual and occasionally challenging. In an austere mood, Lisicky avoids the idea of comfort for its own sake but asks, "Couldn't there be some rigor to comfort?" The Narrow Door answers with both, in a compelling package. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: The Narrow Door is literary, smart and poignant, an extended eulogy for a friend and a meditation on friendship.

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