Shelf Awareness for Monday, February 22, 2016

Other Press (NY): Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru by Hugh Bonneville

Shadow Mountain: Delicious Gatherings: Recipes to Celebrate Together by Tara Teaspoon

Berkley Books: The Last Russian Doll by Kristen Loesch

Charlesbridge Publishing: Too-Small Tyson (Storytelling Math) by Janay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Anastasia Williams

MIT Press: Rethinking Gender: An Illustrated Exploration by Louie Läuger

Spiegel & Grau: Brave Hearted: The Women of the American West by Katie Hickman

Austin Macauley: Lasseter's Truth by John Somerset

St. Martin's Press: Weyward by Emilia Hart

Quotation of the Day

UConn Co-op Op-Ed: 'Save the Store'

" 'Just because everyone else jumps off a bridge,' parents have been telling their children for generations, 'doesn't mean you should jump off a bridge too.' Similarly, just because many universities outsource their bookstores to homogenous, for-profit corporate chains, with local managers answering to headquarters in distant cities, does not mean that UConn should follow suit. But the administration is currently considering proposals to operate the bookstore from big chains, as well as the Co-op managing it now."

--Suzy Staubach, former general books division manager of the UConn Co-op in a Hartford Courant op-ed "Co-op Should Continue Key Role in Life of UConn"

CamCat Publishing: The Darker the Skies (Earth United) by Bryan Prosek


Hamilton Creator Stars in Drama Book Shop Rescue

A week ago Sunday, a pipe burst on the third floor of building housing the Drama Book Shop in New York City, leaking undetected much of the night and Monday morning into the front of the store. It destroyed the biography section and much of the store's writing and acting sections.

This video by Lin-Manuel Miranda shows the flood damage at Drama Book Shop.

It's a big mess and a financial drain, but in a wonderful testament to Drama Book Shop's roots in New York City's theater community, customers have rallied to support the 99-year-old store. And the star of the effort has been Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and stars in Hamilton, the  hit Broadway musical based on Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton. Using the hashtag @BuyABook, Miranda has been regularly tweeting about the store and encouraging his 260,000-plus followers to buy books from Drama Book Shop, reported.

A typical tweet: "The @dramabookshop is not only the best place to get theater-related ANYTHING, I wrote most of In the Heights there. Pls support."

The reaction has been striking: right after Miranda began tweeting his support on Thursday, some 50 orders came in online in two hours, much higher than the usual five to 10 orders the shop receives every day, Steven McCasland, who manages the store's social media accounts, told

Senior sales employee Stuart Brynien called the tweets "wonderful for the store. People have actually asked if there's a donation pot they could dump money into."

Miranda will also show his support with a signing at the store of the Hamilton script (with photographs, essays and more) after it's published by Grand Central in April--copies can be ordered now on Drama Book Shop's website. The store is also holding a benefit show at 54 Below on March 27 to raise funds for repairs and book replacements.

Barefoot Books: Save 10%

Califon Book Shop's New Owner Sets Grand Reopening

Heather Kerner, who "fell in love with the Califon Book Shop when she first visited it a few years ago" and purchased the bookstore just before the holidays, has scheduled a grand re-opening event for February 27, reported. The shop had been in business for 25 years.

"When everything fell into place, it was a dream come true," said Kerner, the shop's fourth owner. "This shop isn't just about the books for me. It's also about the people and the community that I have the privilege of being a part of. I do my best to remember customers' names and their interests because I want their experience here to be personal."

Regarding her customers, she said, "I really want them to feel special when they're here. I love special-ordering books for my customers, but I really get excited when they come in not knowing what they're looking for and I feel like I've helped them find something exceptional."

Kerner also noted that "it's natural for any small, independent business to worry about the convenience of online shopping having an effect on their ability to thrive. Amazon may offer lower prices and Prime shipping, but it doesn't compare to the feeling of walking into a bookshop and seeing all of the potential adventures sitting on the shelves; it doesn't provide the experience of talking with someone face-to-face about books. Independent bookshop owners do what we do because we truly love books. And you can't put a price on that."

Candlewick Press (MA): The Real Dada Mother Goose: A Treasury of Complete Nonsense by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Julia Rothman

Harper Lee Dies at Age 89

Harper Lee, the author of the iconic To Kill a Mockingbird--one of the most beloved works of American literature--and the more recent Go Set a Watchman, died on Friday in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala. She was 89.

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became an immediate bestseller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into what has become a classic movie. The book was been a steady seller since it was published--most American students read it at least once in school--and has sold more than 40 million copies.

Set in the 1930s in a small town like Lee's hometown, the story is a coming of age-Southern gothic tale dealing with pervasive racism, inequality and legal injustice from the point of view of a young girl, Scout. The book is revered for its narrative style, its sense of humor, its vivid and eccentric characters. The plot involves a tragically common situation in the Deep South during the time: Scout's lawyer father, Atticus Finch, represents a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Most townspeople want to lynch the defendant and deeply resent Atticus's strong defense. Atticus's wisdom, integrity, high moral values and gentleness are a shining example for Scout and a signal of hope for readers. To Kill a Mockingbird's characters, including Scout's brother, Jem, and friend Dill (based on her real-life friend Truman Capote) are among the best known in the world. As one fan said over the weekend, "You can go to France and mention Boo Radley, and people will know who you mean."

Lee was famously reclusive, declining interviews, uncomfortable with her fame and success. In 2007, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush for her contribution to literature, and she traveled to the White House for the honor.

Lee published nothing after To Kill a Mockingbird--until last July, when Go Set a Watchman, an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, with many of the same characters but set in the 1950s, appeared. The book was an instant sensation, celebrated with the same kind of excitement and public events that greeted new Harry Potter books. Although not as polished as To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman was marked by the same strong narrative style. Some fans were disappointed that Atticus Finch is portrayed as a segregationist and says demeaning things about blacks, but for many, it was wonderful to read more prose by Harper Lee.

Remembrances and testimonials have poured in. Among the many eloquent ones was this from President Obama: "When Harper Lee sat down to write To Kill a Mockingbird, she wasn't seeking awards or fame. She was a country girl who just wanted to tell an honest story about life as she saw it.

"But what that one story did, more powerfully than one hundred speeches possibly could, was change the way we saw each other, and then the way we saw ourselves. Through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, she showed us the beautiful complexity of our common humanity, and the importance of striving for justice in our own lives, our communities, and our country.

"Ms. Lee changed America for the better. And there is no higher tribute we can offer her than to keep telling this timeless American story--to our students, to our neighbors, and to our children--and to constantly try, in our own lives, to finally see each other."

Parallax Press: Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems by Thich Nhat Hanh

Remembering Harper Lee

In 2005, I wrote Harper Lee to find out what book she credited turning her into a lifelong reader. My proposed story was axed, but two weeks later I got a letter back from Miss Lee. "Not many people are turned on by John Ruskin these days," she wrote, "but The King of the Golden River was an early 'fix' in a lifetime's addiction to reading; I've never sought a cure."

I was an editor at Publishers Weekly for 11 years and met so many authors that it's hard not to become somewhat blasé, but Harper Lee was the holy grail of authors and To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my all-time favorite novels. I wasn't about to let this correspondence die just because the story had.

Kevin Howell and Harper Lee

At the time, she was still spending half the year in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., and half in her one-bedroom apartment in New York City's Upper East Side. We continued writing letters, and when I reviewed Charles Shield's unauthorized biography of her, Mockingbird, I sent her my review and we bonded over our mutual apathy for the book. She wrote: "So much of what he wrote is just plain untrue that the book is worthless for any serious research. He will make millions."

A few months later, I met her in person at a Starbucks near her Manhattan apartment. Miss Lee hadn't given an interview in roughly 40 years, so I assured her that I wasn't turning our talk into an article. "Oh, I trust you," she said. We talked for 90 minutes. She loved being a transplanted New Yorker, she said. Later she wrote me: "A Manhattan neighborhood like mine is ideal for an old person: I can walk to everything I need--supermarkets (4 in 4 blocks!), drug stores (3), drs., churches, even an undertaker." She was unassuming, funny and a great storyteller.

Now that she knew my work and home phone numbers, we started chatting on the phone. (When my home answering machine died years later, I mourned the loss of some hilarious messages from her.) In March 2007, she had a mild stroke that affected her left side. She was in a Birmingham rehab hospital for months.

I got a chance to visit her in 2008 when I attended a booksellers convention in Alabama. I drove to Monroeville and spent the day with her at the cozy assisted living facility where she was then living.

She had a sweet tooth, so I brought cookies and baklava. She was in a wheelchair but could still stand and walk when she wanted. Because of her macular degeneration, she had a large overhead projector that helped her read books. (I mention these ailments because when Go Set a Watchman (her first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird) came out in 2015, many strangers wrote editorials claiming she was being taken advantage of by her publisher and citing her stroke, bad eyesight and hearing aids without knowing these were old ills.) I was with her for six hours. Post-stroke, she was still funny, smart, opinionated, kind and sharp as a tack. When I asked her if she was working on any writing projects, she slyly said, "A writer never stops writing."

After she made Monroeville her sole residence, she wrote, "Nothing goes on here with relentless regularity." She had family and friends in Monroeville, but she once wistfully wrote, "Isn't it curious: Jane Austen, I think, never went more than 20 miles from home, yet saw the world. Of course, she was a genius who could 'see the world in a grain of sand.' I do long to see the world of the City again--don't be surprised if I call you from 82nd Street! By then you will be an old man & I in my hundreds."

One of my favorite letters from her ends with, "I have never had a better friend." I'm sure that's not true but I'm adding it to my résumé: Harper Lee's best friend. RIP to a great lady and world-changing author. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Author and Phlilosopher Umberto Eco Dies at 84

Umberto Eco, "an Italian scholar in the arcane field of semiotics who became the author of bestselling novels," as the New York Times put it, died February 19. He was 84. Eco "sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols... and published more than 20 nonfiction books on these subjects while teaching at the University of Bologna, Europe's oldest university. But rather than segregate his academic life from his popular fiction, Mr. Eco infused his seven novels with many of his scholarly preoccupations." 

The most successful of these was The Name of the Rose, which sold more than 10 million copies in about 30 languages. His other books include Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, The Prague Cemetery, History of Beauty, Baudolino, Serendipities: Language & Lunacy, The Book of Legendary Lands and, most recently, Numero Zero. Eco was honored with Italy's highest literary award, the Premio Strega; was named a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French government; and was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The Guardian reported that Italy's prime minister, Matteo Renzi, praised Eco as "an extraordinary example of a European intellectual, combining unique intelligence of the past with a limitless capacity to anticipate the future. It's an enormous loss for culture, which will miss his writing and voice, his sharp and lively thought, and his humanity."

In the Telegraph, novelist Allan Massie paid tribute to Eco, noting that "intellectual though he was, with a personal library of some 50,000 books, Eco didn't immure himself in the proverbial Ivory Tower. A whisky-drinker with, for most of his life, a 60-cigarettes-a-day habit, he was an accomplished journalist and early media don, who adored popular culture, starting with the comic books of his childhood. 'I suspect,' he said, 'that there is no serious scholar who doesn't like to watch television.' "

But Stephen Moss observed in the Guardian that the "key, in taking stock of his 60-year career, will be putting the fictions in context. Do not trust obituaries that emphasize 'the author of The Name of the Rose' to the exclusion of his other personae. His novels were a relatively small part of his output, and his contributions as critic, editor, literary theorist and all-round provocateur should not be forgotten. He was fascinated by--and wanted to look afresh at--everything. Nothing was sacrosanct. The society in which he had grown up had been torn apart by the second world war, and he sought to understand why. That was the key to his leftwing politics and to his restless intellectual wanderings. Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon literary and intellectual world is safer and more self-contained because it did not suffer that mid-century catastrophe."


Bookstore Cat: 'Customer Service Isn't Exactly Her Specialty'

"This cat lives in a bookstore, but isn't known for her customer service skills," noted in profiling Page: The Bookstore Cat, who calls Book Buyers in Charlotte, N.C., home. The booksellers originally discovered her in a dumpster "and appropriately named the feline, who was just a tiny kitten at the time. With a little coaxing, Page befriended the humans, and now the kitty calls the bookstore home. However, customer service isn't exactly her specialty."

A cautionary sign on the bookstore's front door spells out the ground rules: "Hi! My name is Page. I'm the store cat. I scratch and bite. Please don't touch or annoy me (or call me 'fat' or ask if I'm pregnant)."

FoxTale Book Shoppe Is 'Selling the Experience'

Independent stores "have been able to survive, thrive and even launch in spite of competition from big box retailers... by becoming more a part of the fabric in the communities they serve, offering more personalized service and unique ambience than the bigger guys," the Associated Press reported.

Among the indie retailers featured was FoxTale Book Shoppe, Woodstock, Ga., where "the strategy is building relationships with customers and the community. The staff spends time chatting with customers about books, knows customers' tastes and recommends books," the AP noted, adding: "As a result of its small-bookstore feel and personalized services, sales at FoxTale have increased between 15% and 25% a year since it opened in 2007--despite Barnes & Noble's proximity."

"We aren't so much selling the book as we are selling the experience," said co-owner Ellen Ward.

Personnel Changes at Faber & Faber

Shara Zaval has joined Faber & Faber as U.S. publicity and marketing manager. She was formerly editorial manager of and at the Book Report Network.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Senator Cory Booker on the Daily Show

Fresh Air: Sonia Shah, author of Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond (Sarah Crichton, $26, 9780374122881).

Diane Rehm: Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss, authors of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA (Portfolio, $30, 9781591846321).

Daily Show: Senator Cory Booker, author of United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good (Ballantine, $27, 9781101965160).

Today: Jennifer Wilder Morgan, author of Come to the Garden: A Novel (Howard, $16, 9781501131332).

Tavis: Mary Frances Berry, author of Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy (Beacon Press, $25.95, 9780807076408).

Diane Rehm: Matt Gallagher, author of Youngblood: A Novel (Atria, $26, 9781501105746) and Helen Simonson, author of The Summer Before the War: A Novel (Random House, $28, 9780812993103).

Meredith Vieira: William Shatner, co-author of Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man (Thomas Dunne, $25.99, 9781250083319).

TV: Queen Sugar

Neema Barnette (Woman Thou Art Loosed on the 7th Day) will direct and produce OWN network's new original drama series Queen Sugar, adapted from the debut novel by Natalie Baszile, Deadline reported, adding that Oprah Winfrey will have a recurring role on the show.

Books & Authors

Awards: SoA Translation

Seven translators were named recipients of the Society of Authors' Translation Prizes, with a total of £11,000 (about $15,845) and €5,000 (about $5,565) distributed to the winners. The SoA Translation Prizes honor works of translation into English that "exemplify the importance of translators in unlocking voices and worlds with meticulous attention and stunning creativity."

Book Review

Review: The Rarest Bird in the World

The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar by Vernon R.L. Head (Pegasus Books, $26.95 hardcover, 9781605989631, March 7, 2016)

"Searching enquiringly, steeped in a willingness to learn, we felt a connection with biodiversity and an appreciation of species." This recurring concept of inquiry, combined with a sense of wonder, dominates Vernon R.L. Head's poetic musings in The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar. A conservationist and lifelong birdwatcher, Head was entranced by the findings of a 1990 scientific expedition to the Nechisar plains in Africa's Great Rift Valley: among many specimens, the team collected a single wing of a bird that turned out to be unknown to science. After some discussion within the ornithological community--can a species be defined by a single body part?--it was named the Nechisar Nightjar, Caprimulgus solala ("solala" meaning "only wing"). "The new species was announced, and birdwatchers like me began to dream."

Decades later, Head and three elite birdwatching buddies trek to the Plains of Nechisar in Ethiopia to search for this elusive, prized, nearly mythical creature. In an awestruck tone, he describes their journey, interweaving the story of the 1990 discovery, reflections on humanity's place in the natural world, memories of other birds, and thoughts on for taxonomy and naming. Head is appreciative of metaphor and playful with words: he coins the collective "an incantation of ibises," calls Addis Ababa "a eucalyptopolis," sees a cliff of striated rock as a "shelf of books to the past." This fanciful mood defines much of the book, although Head does turn somber in contemplating the future of many rare birds. After slower paced sections, as in recalling the birdwatchers he travels with, the adrenaline increases as they draw closer to meeting the Nechisar Nightjar.

Head's story of birdwatching and its relationship to conservation is also a meditation on extinction and an ode to the natural world. He is unafraid of wandering within these subjects, and his passion for this work is clear: "Each name [on a birdwatcher's list] is a story of an interaction, a time of connection with the pristine, a collection of memories, an understanding of our place in the system of natural things, and a hope for the future of that place." The skills involved in spotting rare species approaches magic, even as it references science. This combination of reverence and scientific history is attractive as both a work of literature and an illumination. The Rarest Bird in the World is an alluring view into birdwatching and multiple rarities. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: A master birdwatcher lyrically describes his quest for the first scientific sighting of a little-known species.


More Money for Discover Great New Writers Award Winners

Clarification: In our mention on Friday of the summer list of Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program, we misstated the prize money for the Discover Great New Writers Awards. The company has raised the prize money so now top winners in each category, fiction and nonfiction, receive a $30,000 prize and a full year of promotion from Barnes & Noble. The two second-place finalists  receive $15,000, and the two third-place finalists $7,500. The prize money totals $105,000; the 2015 awards will be announced on March 2.

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