Shelf Awareness for Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

Delacorte Press: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy

Margaret Ferguson Books: Not a Smiley Guy by Polly Horvath, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Indiana University Press: The Grim Reader: A Pharmacist's Guide to Putting Your Characters in Peril by Miffie Seideman

Hell's Hundred: Blood Like Mine by Stuart Neville

Spiegel & Grau: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen

Tor Books: The Daughters' War (Blacktongue) by Christopher Buehlman


Garrison Keillor's New Venture: The Pretty Good Bookstore?

Garrison Keillor plans to open a bookstore in St. Paul, Minn., in November, the Pioneer Press reported. Keillor did not comment, but the paper said "a source" on his Prairie Home Companion show confirmed the account.

The store will be in the Blair Arcade building at Western and Selby avenues and below Nina's Coffee Café--a store name that sounds like something out of Keillor's show.

David Unowsky, former owner of Ruminator Books and now events coordinator at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, told the paper his advice for Keillor: "Work with your community, and have a clear-cut niche that works. Poetry and good literature is a good niche. You also have to reach out to the neighborhood. In that location, I'd hope you would have lots of diversity, with books for African-Americans, Hmong and Asian readers."

And Susan Walker, executive director of the Midwest Booksellers Association, said, "We would be delighted to see a general-interest independent bookstore in St. Paul. After the demise of Ruminator Books and Bound to Be Read, a void has been left."

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Roswell Johnson Saves the World! (Roswell Johnson #1) by Chris Colfer

A Heartfelt Goodbye from Doug Paton

After some 30 years in the book business, Doug Paton of Nor' East Book Sales is retiring for health reasons and is transferring his lines and publishers to Bill Palizzolo of Billbooks & Associates. Klutz Press is the first of the companies to agree.

In a heartfelt letter to New England Booksellers Association members, Paton wrote that he would miss "this wonderful domain. At one point in my life, I actually pursued a different career (the newspaper business) but that was for three years as opposed to ten times that for the book publishing and book sales venture. This was the hardest and most woeful decision of my life to this point. The people of the book business are generally upbeat, positive and gregarious conglomeration of humans I have ever had the pleasure with which to be affiliated.

"Of course, I refer to bookstore people and not the publishers. I wish I could have an intimate conversation with each and every one of you before I never make the rounds again. However, that seems to be a logistical nightmare, so this mode of expression will have to be sufficient. I have always said that my 'job' would never define me . . . Well at this juncture of my life to not be a publishers sales rep seems to be an extremely hard thing for me to deal with internally. I liked the process and people and I can not imagine Doug Paton as anything else but a publishers rep.

"My dearest wish is that all independent booksellers will thrive and the monolithic giants will shrivel and die. This is quite simply nothing but fantasy, but I can still hope. Out of all the NEBA members I have dealt with in the past 30 years, I can count on ONE HAND the number of people with whom I did not like to work. That is an amazing number. In the general populous at least one out of ten people are gruesomely horrific. Book people are just nicer than the outside world. I suppose it is akin to being insulated from reality, and I wish I could still be within the confines of your world, but alas it is not to be. Please do not be offended if I don't mention any one person or group of people to say goodbye to . . . it would be too painful for me to do so. I will miss you all so much. You are most of my life and now I will have to say goodbye and good luck. I will dread the thought of not calling you and making appointments, but that is what fate and nature deemed the future.

"Goodbye and thank you to all of NEBA who have formed the bulk of this wonderful thing called my career. Keep your chin and hopes up, and most of all never stop learning about the world (especially through reading!)."

Harper: Sandwich by Catherine Newman

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Prize-Winner Updike on the Bookworm

Today on CNN American Morning: Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs (Villard, $24.95, 1400064457). He's also scheduled for Fox and Friends and CNBC's Donny Deutsch.


Today on KCRW's Bookworm, the first part of an interview with John Updike. This focuses on Terrorist (Knopf, $24.95, 0307264653), his newest book. As the show describes it: "The subject of John Updike's recent bestseller required that he contrast his own reliance on faith with the more violent faith of a young Islamic terrorist. This conversation explores the dark side of empathy and identification."


Today on WAMU's Diane Rehm Show: Louise Richardson, whose What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat (Random House, $17.95, 1588365549) is coming out in paperback.


Today on the View: Paul Burrell, whose new book is The Way We Were: Remembering Diana (Morrow, $25.95, 0061138959).


Today on Fox & Friends and the O'Reilly Factor: Ed McMahon, whose Here's Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, the Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship (Berkley Boulevard, $14, 0425212297) is now out in paperback.

Spiegel & Grau: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen

Book TV: Governor Schwarzenegger's Machine of the Future

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's Web site.

Saturday, September 16

6 p.m. Encore Booknotes. In this segment first aired in 1997, James Humes discusses his book Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter: Five Presidents and Other Political Adventures (Regnery, $22.50, 0895264331), in which he recounts his career as a speechwriter for presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

7 p.m. Public Lives. At an event at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., Janis Kearney, the first official presidential diarist (she recorded President Clinton's daily life from 1995-2001), talks about her book Conversations: From Hope to Harlem (, $27.95, 0976205815) and interviews she conducted with a variety of African-American leaders. The discussion is followed by remarks from former President Clinton.

9 p.m. After Words. Rachel Smolkin, managing editor of the American Journalism Review, interviews Joe Mathews, a Los Angeles Times reporter and author of The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy (PublicAffairs, $26.95, 1586482726), in which he argues that via a merger of direct democracy and Hollywood-style politics Governor Schwarzenegger has created a new kind of political machine that has implications beyond California. (Re-airs Sunday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.)

Sunday, September 17

7 p.m. History on Book TV. In his book Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Ecco, $29.95, 006053916X), Simon Schama details how British officers promised escaped slaves freedom, sending them first to Nova Scotia and later to Sierra Leone--what Schama calls the first mass emancipation of slaves in the Americas.

Books & Authors

Long Story Short: Updike Wins Rea Award

John Updike has won the 2006 Rea Award for the Short Story, created by Michael M. Rea 20 years ago to go to a living American or Canadian writer whose work has made a "significant contribution to the discipline of the short story as an art form." Sponsored by the Dungannon Foundation, the award has a $30,000 prize.

Next April 11, the prize and winners will be honored at Symphony Space in New York City. Besides Updike, participants will include Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Deborah Eisenberg and Tobias Wolff.

This year's jurors--Beattie, Ford and Oates--said this about Updike:

"How rarely it can be said of any of our great American writers that they have been equally gifted in both long and short forms of fiction. Contemplating John Updike's monumental achievement in the short story, one is moved to think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps William Faulkner--writers whose reputations would be as considerable, or nearly, if their short stories had been all that they had written. From John Updike's remarkable early story collections The Same Door (1959) and Pigeon Feathers (1962) through his beautifully nuanced stories of family life The Music School (1966), Museums and Women (1972), Problems and Other Stories (1979); from the sardonic, richly funny and unexpectedly tender tales of Henry Bech (Bech: A Book, 1970; Bech Is Back, 1982; Bech at Bay, 1998) to the bittersweet humors of middle-age and beyond of Trust Me (1987),The Afterlife (1994), and Licks of Love (2000), John Updike has created a body of work in the notoriously difficult form of the short story to set beside those of these distinguished American predecessors. Congratulations and heartfelt thanks are due to John Updike for having brought such pleasure and such illumination to so many readers for so many years."

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Failing Better with Bookstore Web Sites

"No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."--Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

Beckett's existential strategy might serve as a realistic mantra for indie booksellers who want to create and sustain an online presence. Running a race with no finish line is the exhausting, absurd and inevitable way of life on the Web.

"Given how quickly change can happen, one must maintain some level of fluency, some level of competency, to permit the rapid adoption of new services and products," says Tattered Cover's manager of operations Neil Strandberg. In my last column, he shared his thoughts about using the template. This time he talks about both the challenge and the necessity for indie booksellers to stay up to speed on the info superhighway.

Strandberg has what he terms his "soapbox" speech about Internet commitment: "I may be making this up, but I get a sense that there are some within the indie community who argue in favor of a kind of 'opt out' business model: that we've lost the battle to keep up and should instead find refuge in standing outside of--indeed, in opposition to--these technologies and the changes they are bringing to consumer ideas about reading books (now known as content, I hear). This may work in some settings, perhaps where the store is small, the local fabric strong and the community insulated. For the rest of us, we have no choice but to break our backs trying to keep up, identifying and adopting our own innovations in a marketplace where we are perpetually disadvantaged. Having a Web site, even one that doesn't do all that you dream, is still part of staying in the game."

It's a game in which the rules change second by second. No one "keeps up" anymore; we just try to avoid being left behind. I've noticed that the bookshop Web sites I enjoy visiting most seem to be virtual representations of the people who inhabit the bricks-and-mortar stores rather than efficient, alien, cyborg annexes. That's why the online bookstores that move to the top of my siteseeing list are the ones offering current blogs (Elizabeth Frengel and Joe Murphy at Olsson's) or direct e-mail access to booksellers (Rainy Day Books) or podcasts of author events or anything else that humanizes a site and promotes some level of interactivity.

Call it organic mind over digital matter.

No one says this is easy, and most indie bookstores do not start from a position of strength when it comes to this competition. The virtual playing field is anything but level. Strandberg touches on this in what he terms a "truth" about the Internet challenge, which is "the cost of keeping up with the Joneses. And not just online shopping but also the varieties of digital content that one way or another have their origins in traditional print reading and in which a bookstore has a stake. The stock market has subsidized the rapid progress of industry goliaths and neither the ABA nor its members have had the benefit of this enormous gift of cash and consumer/investor attention. As we are all well aware, consumers are continually being trained by Internet change leaders and have less patience for the rest of us."

While there is no magic bullet solution, the human touch and openness to trial and error must always play key roles in drawing readers to your site. Imagination and persistence are as crucial to success as technological innovation. Even that word "success" can be defined in so many ways--increasing online books sales, widening a bookstore's geographic reach, developing profitable e-mail communication links between frontline booksellers and their customers.

Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Strandberg isn't. When I express my surprise, given Tattered Cover's reputation as a great handselling store, that there is no Staff Picks page (a staple for most bookstore Web sites) on TC's site, he replies that it is an unfortunate but by no means permanent situation: "In the past, we've had a difficult time maintaining it in a useful way. It has proved more difficult than one might at first suspect to get the staff engaged and keep the selections current. We're going to make another run at it again later this year."

Beckett as webmaster. Repeat after me: "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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