Shelf Awareness for Monday, January 25, 2016

Aladdin Paperbacks: Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8) by Shannan Messenger

Flatiron Books: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Sleeping Bear Press: Back Roads, Country Toads by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Tim Bowers

St. Martin's Griffin: The Truth about Magic: Poems by Atticus

Tor Teen: This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Fukuda

St. Martin's Press: Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie Grazer


#WI11 (and the Broncos) Kickoff

photo: Kristen Gilligan

Winter Institute 11 in Denver, Colo., kicked off Saturday night with a lively party at the Tattered Cover's beautiful Colfax Avenue store, where longtime owner Joyce Meskis addressed hundreds of booksellers and other attendees.

Beginning with a stimulating breakfast keynote from Martin Lindstrom, whose new book is Small Data, yesterday's #WI11 sessions were packed and on a range of topics. (Coverage begins below and follows during the week.) Bookseller attendance was boosted by 20% this year, to about 625, and most made it despite the blizzard on the East Coast. Many booksellers from the Northeast were able to move flights up, although 35-40 booksellers, as well as a few speakers, weren't able to travel to the Mile High City. An added bonus later yesterday: there were many happy Denverites around after the Broncos beat the Patriots in an exciting AFC championship game that took place two miles from the Winter Institute hotel.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters

#WI11: Richard Russo, Douglas Preston on Amazon

"The central problem is still with us," said Douglas Preston, author and founder of the Authors United movement, during a featured talk at Winter Institute 11 on Sunday about and the antitrust efforts of the Authors Guild, Authors United and the American Booksellers Association. Richard Russo, author and vice-president of the Authors Guild, joined Preston in conversation, and Oren Teicher, CEO of the ABA, moderated the discussion.

Douglas Preston, Oren Teicher and Richard Russo

"The central problem is Amazon's enormous dominance of the entire book publishing industry," continued Preston. "Amazon overall has a market share in the entire publishing world that is about equal to Standard Oil's share of the petroleum distribution business in 1911 when it was broken up into 34 companies--about 70%."

In a meeting with members of the Department of Justice last September, Preston said, members of Authors United, the Authors Guild and others presented the Department with arguments for an antitrust investigation into Amazon's practices. Unlike an earlier meeting with lawyers from the DoJ, Preston recalled, this one went well. In his estimation, the most compelling argument against Amazon is not actually an antitrust argument but in fact a First Amendment argument. Americans, he said, have been extremely concerned about the concentration of power in "any vital informational market" since the founding of the country. Now, Preston contended, Amazon has greater control of the book market than any corporation in any informational market in the history of the United States, and the company's practices have "already distorted the free flow of information" in this country.

Amazon has also exerted such powerful downward pressure on the industry and extracted so much money from it, Preston continued, that publishers are now much more conservative and risk-averse in their publishing decisions. Debut authors and midlist authors, he said, have been "absolutely devastated" by this, and it was those authors for whom Preston had the greatest concern. The case could strongly be made, Preston argued, that there are books not being published because of Amazon's effect on the market.

"That is the most devastating thing of all, I think," said Preston. "The authors who will not become authors."

Russo recalled not taking an active stance against Amazon until he wrote a New York Times piece in 2011 decrying Amazon's predatory business practices and in particular its showrooming app. He received an invitation to join the Authors Guild following his editorial, which led Russo to think more deeply about "authorship in general" and in particular the status of the "writing life" for new and midlist writers.

"You don't have to worry about Doug and me. That's not the point," said Russo. The point, he continued, is protecting what is left of the writing life for emerging writers. Author incomes in many countries around the world, including the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, are down substantially, and though Amazon is not the sole reason for that, they are "squarely in the middle of what's happening."

Russo denied the notion that the Authors Guild is opposed to Amazon no matter what. "We've run afoul of Amazon from time to time not because we hate Amazon, but because we believe the best way for us to flourish is for all of us to flourish," he said. There is a place in the publishing ecosystem, he asserted, for large publishers and small publishers, big stores and small independent stores, and it was better for everyone involved, even Amazon, to have a more diverse ecosystem. "We don't want someone coming along and taking more than their share."

It was also "terribly scary," Russo added, when the nation's largest bookseller "does not care about authors and does not care about books."

On a personal level, Russo said he was keenly aware of how important independent booksellers were in building his career. In a world dominated entirely by Amazon, which does a very poor job of identifying and promoting new and emerging writers, Richard Russo the author would not exist. And it was baffling to him, he said, how ruthlessly Amazon competes with independent bookstores. Wondered Russo: "How does it work to their advantage to put the very people out of business who know who the great new writers are coming up in the pipeline?"

When asked if there were any reasons to be optimistic that the Department of Justice would actually pursue Amazon, Preston said that there are. Among the reasons: the gradual shifting of public opinion about Amazon in the U.S. People are starting to realize, he said, that it's important to support local businesses. Said Preston: "I think the trend is against Amazon in several ways."

Russo agreed that the population at large is beginning to have a better understanding of the value of independent bookstores. "Independent booksellers have survived, I suspect, because it's finally come home to people what added value is all about," he said. "People in general are beginning to understand that the embrace of the screen is a very chilly one." --Alex Mutter

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Zweihander Grim & Perilous Rpg: Player's Handbook by Daniel D Fox

Winter Storm Jonas: #Blizzard2016 or #ReadingWeather?

At Politics & Prose the sidewalks were cleared, but the street access was challenging.

Northeast booksellers at the Winter Institute kept in close touch with staff back at their stores during the blizzard on Saturday. Among their reports:

Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine and several senior managers flew to Denver early after making plans with staff who remained in the capital. Staff who lived in walking distance of the store or stayed with people nearby came in on Saturday, when the store  opened for a short while. "We put safety first," Graham said, "and closed when the storm intensified." Yesterday P&P opened an hour later than usual and planned to close early because sidewalks were still hazardous. Graham was proud of the effort, saying, "Our job is to serve the community, and we're living up to that responsibility. Even the storm of the century couldn't stop us."

BookTowne, Manasquan, N.J., was closed Saturday and Sunday, owner Rita Maggio said. Streets were plowed yesterday, but there was no parking for customers. The store should open today and will celebrate with a discount on all books equal to the number of inches of snow dumped by the storm--somewhere between 15" and 18".

Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, N.J., was closed Saturday and Sunday after the staff was unable to get to the store yesterday because of bad conditions in town, but will open today, Margot Sage-EL said.

Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., at the northern edge of the storm, where 7"-8" of snow fell, closed at noon on Saturday so that staff could get home safely, co-owner Annie Philbrick said. The store was open yesterday.

Back East
Many booksellers in the storm's path took full advantage of social media to share information, recommendations and good humor with their customers. Here's a sampling:

The Spiral Bookcase, Philadelphia, Pa.:
(Saturday) "WE ARE CLOSED FOR A SNOW DAY! Enjoy snuggling up with a good book, making snowmen, and drinking hot cocoa."

Malaprop's Bookstore, Asheville, N.C.:
(Saturday) "We are closing at 5 today and will reopen at 10 tomorrow morning to bring people and books together again."
(Sunday) "Going stir crazy? Walk, sled, or ski on over. We are open!"

Booksy Galore, Pound Ridge, N.Y.: We made it!!! Booksy is open and cozy!! And we're working on our Feb window display! #‎hearts #‎bookstore."

Turn the Page Bookstore Café, Boonsboro, Md.: "Well, a few of us made it to the store to work on the Brotherhood in Death ship out, but waist high snow is a real challenge for those of us who are a bit on the short side. Don't think we're going try this again until Monday!"

Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Lexington, Ken.: "When your neighborhood coffee shop is a bookstore then what better place to await the coming ice age? Open until at least noon... or there's a yeti sighting."

Firestorm Books & Coffee, Asheville, N.C.: "Neighbors showed up this morning to help us (re)shovel our sidewalk. #bestasheville #onhaywood #firestormcoop."

Little Joe's Books, Katonah, N.Y.: "These awesome ladies got themselves in to work no problem, so we're now open. #‎toughladies #‎teamrockstar #‎welovethem."

The Strand, New York City: "Sunday goals. If you need to restock your blizzard-reading stack, we're open today! #ReadingWeather."

Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookshop, Big Stone Gap, Va.: "When the all-powerful 'They' announced it would start snowing Thursday night and not stop until Saturday evening, I went into supply overdrive.... And when we woke up Friday morning, snowpocalypse in full fall, we checked our e-mails, posted our Facebook cats, put on another pot of coffee and settled in to enjoy the treasure trove. Yes, being snowed into a bookstore is exactly what it's cracked up to be."

Chronicle Books: Redwood and Ponytail by KA Holt

Traveler's Bookcase in Los Angeles to Close

Traveler's Bookcase, Los Angeles, Calif., will close after 24 years in business, LA Observed reported, noting that in an e-mail to customers, the bookseller wrote: "This was not a decision we made lightly. The world is changing, and so is our neighborhood.... We have learned so much--and made so many fantastic friendships--from our wonderful community. Being in the travel book business has made us extremely optimistic about the future of travel.

"We will keep you all informed of our next venture. The physical space at 8375 West Third Street will transform into something new and exciting, and probably travel related. Our web space will relaunch with our favorite uniquely curated travel books and world literature."

New Press: Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America by Erik Nelson and Andrea Dennis, foreword by Killer Mike

Obituary Notes: Forrest McDonald; Edmonde Charles-Roux

Forrest McDonald, a "presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual," died January 19, the New York Times reported. He was 89. His books include The American Presidency: An Intellectual History; Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution; and We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution.


Edmonde Charles-Roux, a longtime editor of French Vogue and author of the 1966 Prix Goncourt-winning novel To Forget Palermo, died January 20. She was 95. The New York Times reported that among her other books were "a celebrated biography of Coco Chanel, published in the United States in 1975 as Chanel: Her Life, Her World--& the Woman Behind the Legend She Herself Created," as well as a photographic sequel, Chanel and her World.


Image of the Day: Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend

Photo: Stephanie Chance

From Kathy L. Murphy, owner of Beauty & the Book and founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club: "Our 'Once Upon a Time' themed faeries, fairy tale characters and woodland creature authors are ready to serve dinner for our opening author dinner during our annual Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend 2016. Always held during Martin Luther King Weekend, we were at Mast Hall in historic Nacogdoches, Tex., the oldest town in Texas and so befitting for our now over 600 book clubs, running coast to coast and in 15 foreign countries as we are making history happen when it comes to reading great books!"

During the Girlfriend Weekend festivities, the following Pulpwood Queen Books of the Year winners were named:

Fiction: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Nonfiction: Liar, Temptress Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
Bonus Book of the Year: Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy Hepinstall & Becky Hepinstall Hilliker
Children's: Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt
Doug Marlette Award for a person who has spent a lifetime promoting literacy: Helen Thompson, a librarian in Mt. Pleasant, Tex.

Personnel Changes at Chronicle, Viking Penguin

Jodi Hammerworld has joined Chronicle Books as associate distribution client account manager. She previously worked in publisher relations and rights at the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.


Emma Mohney has been promoted to associate publicist for Viking and Penguin Books. She joined Viking and Penguin Books as a publicity assistant in 2014 and earlier worked at William Morris Endeavor.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jo Marchant on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Matt Katz, author of American Governor: Chris Christie's Bridge to Redemption (Threshold Editions, $28, 9781476782669). He will also appear tomorrow on NPR's Here and Now.

Diane Rehm: Rod Nordland, author of The Lovers: Afghanistan's Romeo and Juliet, the True Story of How They Defied Their Families and Escaped an Honor Killing (Ecco, $26.99, 9780062378828).

Tonight Show: Kate Hudson, author of Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body (Dey Street, $26.99, 9780062434234). She will also appear tomorrow on Live with Kelly & Michael and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Comedy Central's At Midnight: Grace Helbig, author of Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It (Touchstone, $19.99, 9781501120589).

Diane Rehm: Geoffrey L. Greif, co-author of Adult Sibling Relationships (Columbia University Press, $30, 9780231165174).

Fresh Air: Jo Marchant, author of Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body (Crown, $26, 9780385348157).

Movies: Allegiant Trailer

"After two movies, the time has finally come for Tris [Shailene Woodley] and the gang to see what life is like outside of Chicago," Entertainment Weekly noted in showcasing a new trailer for Allegiant in which "Tris bares it all for Four (Theo James) before he realizes things might not be what they imagined on the other side of the wall."

Returning for the penultimate film in the franchise based on Veronica Roth's Divergent series are Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller and Zoë Kravitz. Joining the cast are Jeff Daniels and Bill Skarsgård. Robert Schwentke returns as director.

Books & Authors

Awards: Kay Sexton Winner

Jim Sitter, advocate for literary nonprofit organizations and founding executive director of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, has won the Kay Sexton Award, which is presented annually "to an individual or organization in recognition of long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading, and literary activity in Minnesota."

Sitter worked at the former Hungry Mind Bookstore, where he launched the Hungry Mind Reading Series. David Unowksy, founder of Hungry Mind and a fellow Kay Sexton Award recipient, said, "Jim's work has benefited every aspect of our literary culture: writers, publishers, booksellers and other non-profits."

In 1979, Sitter launched book distribution company Bookslinger. He has been the executive director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and a founder of LitNet, a coalition of nonprofit literary organizations across the country. He will be honored April 16 during the Minnesota Book Awards in St. Paul.

Book Review

Review: The Yid

The Yid by Paul Goldberg (Picador, $26 hardcover, 9781250079039, February 2, 2016)

Paul Goldberg's debut novel, The Yid, is a wildly imaginative account of Josef Stalin's death that combines elements of drama, thriller and farce into an energetic alternate history of the dictator's demise.

In the depths of a Moscow winter in February 1953, all but a few of the Soviet Union's some two million Jews are unaware that a plan for mass deportations and executions will soon be set into motion. But retired Yiddish theater actor Solomon Levinson, physician Aleksandr Kogan and Yiddish-speaking African American engineer Friederich Lewis, who's fled the racism of his native Omaha for the Soviet Promised Land, are about to improvise a desperate scheme to thwart Stalin's plan to launch "a Kristallnacht times ten, or times a hundred!" 

These unlikely co-conspirators prove to be remarkably adept at the swift, savage, but balletic, violence necessary to work their way methodically (if, on occasion, accidentally) toward Stalin's dacha. But for all their single-minded determination to assassinate the Soviet leader, whose anti-Semitism is every bit as virulent as his World War II ally-turned-adversary's, Levinson, Kogan and Lewis can't help but reflect on their shared disillusionment with life under the Communist regime. Levinson, who dreams of playing King Lear, never emerged from the shadow of Solomon Mikhoels, the real life star of Moscow's Yiddish theater, murdered on Stalin's orders in 1948. Kogan is about to be imprisoned and executed as an alleged member of the Doctor's Plot that accused Jewish physicians of murdering their patients. And Lewis has discovered that racial discrimination is far from the monopoly of the United States.

Goldberg, who immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union at age 14 in 1973, draws on his own family members and their stories to give the novel an air of verisimilitude, despite its fantastical elements. He blends dramatic scenes, presented in the form of a stage play, with conventional narrative to create a story that, as in his description of one of the confrontations between Levinson and the Soviet authorities "merges comedy, tragedy, absurdity, fantasy, reality, and--voila--the material becomes endowed with a divine spark."

The death of Josef Stalin on March 5, 1953, four days after he suffered an apparent stroke, was much more prosaic than the account Paul Goldberg has created in this vivid novel. The Yid offers an opportunity to contemplate what one tyrant's end might have been like if justice ever truly were poetic. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Paul Goldberg's debut novel is a wildly imaginative account of a plot to assassinate Josef Stalin.

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