Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 19, 2018

Storey Publishing: The Universe in Verse: 15 Portals to Wonder Through Science & Poetry by Maria Popova

Tommy Nelson: You'll Always Have a Friend: What to Do When the Lonelies Come by Emily Ley, Illustrated by Romina Galotta

Jimmy Patterson: Amir and the Jinn Princess by M T Khan

Peachtree Publishers: Erno Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, Illustrated by Kara Kramer

Beacon Press: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Inkshares: Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Tundra Books: On a Mushroom Day by Chris Baker, Illustrated by Alexandria Finkeldey

Blue Box Press: A Soul of Ash and Blood: A Blood and Ash Novel by Jennifer L Armentrout


Amazon Narrows HQ2 List to 20

photo: Robert Scoble

Amazon has winnowed down the sites for its second headquarters to 19 cities and metropolitan areas in the U.S. and one in Canada, in Toronto. The sites are primarily in the eastern part of the country, far from Amazon's headquarters in Seattle. The finalists are New York City, Newark, N.J., Boston, Philadelphia, three sites in and near Washington, D.C., Chicago, two in Texas (Austin and Dallas), as well as Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, Nashville, Raleigh, N.C., Atlanta and Miami. The only site on the West Coast is Los Angeles, and the only site in the Rockies is Denver.

Amazon has said it wanted to locate HQ2 in an area that has a population of at least a million and that would be attractive to tech talent. It said it will make the final decision sometime this year.

Some 238 locations had applied last year to Amazon to be considered for the HQ2 project, which the company has said will include 50,000 jobs with an average pay of more than $100,000 a year and $5 billion in construction spending. In addition, Amazon has said that its "direct hiring and investment, construction and ongoing operation of Amazon HQ2 is expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community."

But, as is its tradition, Amazon seeks a range of breaks and gifts. In its RFP, the company asked bidders to "identify incentive programs available for the project at the state/province and local levels. Outline the type of incentive (i.e., land, site preparation, tax credits/exemptions, relocation grants, workforce grants, utility incentives/grants, permitting, and fee reductions) and the amount." It has promised to "work with" the final 20 sites on details....

Weldon Owen: The Gay Icon's Guide to Life by Michael Joosten, Illustrated by Peter Emerich

Red Tape, Delays Cause WORD to Cancel Children's Store

"Because of permit and construction delays lasting well over a year," WORD bookstore will not open the planned separate children's location near its store in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, N.Y., the store announced yesterday. (WORD also has a store in Jersey City, N.J.)

"We are unbelievably disappointed in this development, but ultimately the financial loss from this interminable wait made us recognize it was time to cut our losses," the store added. "NYC real estate is no joke. Getting caught up in red tape like this is not terribly uncommon, but for a small business like ours it was just impossible to allow it to continue any longer."

In some "good news," WORD noted that it's in "the first of several stages of renovating our original location to focus more strongly on kids and families in order to create a more inviting space for them... We are investing in upgrades that will provide more display space for even more kids books along with oodles more gifts and stationery. In tandem with rethinking the upstairs spaces, we're working on a basement upgrade to make our author events more pleasurable and allow us to run workshops, classes, and kids' birthday parties."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Reynolds, Robinson Join Binc Foundation Board

Jen Reynolds and Chuck Robinson have joined the board of directors of the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Binc executive director Pamela French said, "Both have been advocates of the organization for a long time, we're honored to have them bring their voice, experience and knowledge to the foundation."

Reynolds, director of field sales at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has worked in bookselling and publishing for more than 20 years, including with Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Davis-Kidd Booksellers and later as the Midwest sales rep for PGW and the Perseus Books Group. She has served on the advisory council of the Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance and on the board of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association.

Jen Reynolds

"I've long admired the good work that Binc does. With the uniquely-challenging year so many had in 2017, Binc became even more important as a support system and safety net," she said. "I saw this year, in some cases firsthand, what a difference this group is making. I'm very honored they've asked me to join the cause and am excited to serve."

Robinson, with his wife, Dee, founded Village Books and Paper Dreams in Bellingham, Wash., as well as a second location in Lynden. Last year, the business was sold to three employees. Robinson has served on the board of directors and as president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association; was a board member of the American Booksellers Association, including two years as president; was the founding v-p of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression in 1990 and served until 2006 on its board. He continues to serve on ABA committees and advisory panels, as a board member of the Independent Booksellers Consortium and as a board member of the League of Booksellers Retail Insurance Services.

Chuck Robinson

Last year, Robinson rode his bicycle more than 2,000 miles (#ChucksBigRide) to raise funds and awareness for Binc and two other nonprofits. He said Binc "is so important in helping bookstore employees who are in need and so effective in what it does. I'm pleased to be able to aid this work."

In other Binc news, Ken White, publisher of Query Books and Binc board member since 2015, is the new chair of the Binc program committee. The position was previously held by Christie Roehl, who will continue on the finance committee and will serve as the board secretary. Find a complete list of the 2018 Binc Foundation board of directors here.

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Half Price Books Adding Store in Wichita

Half Price Books will open a bookstore in Wichita, Kan., next fall. The Wichita Eagle reported that the reconfiguration of an OfficeMax store at Eastgate Plaza from 26,800 square feet to 17,000 will open up 10,000 square feet for the new bookstore in the center. Half Price Books operates 124 stores in 17 states, including stores in Overland Park and Olathe. This will be the first in Wichita.

Booksellers Recommend: YA & Children's

Our series on upcoming titles for the winter and spring concludes today with a look at young adult, middle grade and children's books that booksellers are excited to start selling. Lists of adult fiction and nonfiction ran over the past two days.

Young Adult
Starting off today's list is The Belles (Hachette, February 6), the next novel from author Dhonielle Clayton. Set in an alternate world called Orleans, where styles are reminiscent of the Victorian era and beauty is valued higher than anything else, The Belles tells the story of Camellia Beauregard, a young woman who quickly comes to learn that things in this ostensibly beautiful land are much more sinister than they appear. Clarissa Hadge, assistant bookstore manager at Trident Booksellers & Cafe in Boston, Mass., said she always ends up reading Clayton's books "from cover to cover on the first take because I don't want to put the book down," and The Belles was no exception. She added: "This is a perfect book to hunker down with during the cold winter months."

Award-winning slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo makes her YA debut on March 6 with The Poet X, a novel-in-verse about a teenager named Xiomara Batista. Feeling stifled by her strictly religious family and unable to find an outlet in her Harlem community, Xiomara turns her considerable passions and frustrations into poems, which she writes down in a leather notebook. Worried of what her mother might think, Xiomara suppresses her need to perform her poetry, but soon it might become too much to resist. Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Bookstore in Washington, D.C., said, "Regardless of age, everyone should read this phenomenal book." Trident Booksellers' Clarissa Hadge, meanwhile, reported she was "blown away," and expects The Poet X to be "talked about everywhere in the coming months." Available from HarperTeen.

Julie Murphy, author of 2015's Dumplin', returns on May 8 with Puddin', the story of Millie Michalchuk, a teen who has been sent to fat camp every year since she was a child, and Callie Reyes, a pretty, popular, queen bee who appears to be next in line for dance team captain. But after circumstances conspire to bring Millie and Callie together, the two girls, who outwardly could not seem any more different, begin to discover that they're more similar to each other than they ever could have thought. Siân Gaetano, Shelf Awareness's own children's and YA editor, pointed to Dumplin' as a YA novel to watch. Look for it from Balzer + Bray.

In David Arnold's upcoming novel The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, 16-year-old Noah Oakman's life abruptly changes after he undergoes hypnosis. When he wakes up, the world around him is not as he remembers it: his mother suddenly has a new scar on her face, and his old, limp dog is as agile as a puppy. As he struggles to cope with these and other changes, Noah is left to wonder why he is the only one apparently unchanged. Nicole Yasinsky, marketing manager and sidelines buyer at Novel in Memphis, Tenn., recommended Strange Fascinations, praising Arnold's "authentic teen voices and wholly original characters," in this "intriguing, exciting" story.  Arriving May 22 from Viking Young Readers.

Middle Grade
Varian Johnson's middle grade mystery novel The Parker Inheritance begins with Candice, a girl growing up in Lambert, S.C., finding an enigmatic letter in an attic. The letter, addressed to Candice's grandmother, mentions lost loves, forgotten injustices and an old fortune waiting to be found. With the help of a neighbor named Brandon, Candice sets out to solve the puzzle laid out in the letter, and their investigations will take them into Lambert's buried, racist past. Duende District's Angela Maria Spring called The Parker Inheritance an "absorbing" book that "weaves together a suspenseful, honest story." Arthur A. Levine Books will publish The Parker Inheritance on March 27.

You Go First, the next middle grade novel from author Erin Entrada Kelly, is the story of 12-year-old Charlotte Lockard and 11-year-old Ben Boxer. Ben and Charlotte live more than a thousand miles away from each other--the former in rural Louisiana, the latter near Philadelphia--and ostensibly lead completely different lives, but Charlotte and Ben are both intelligent, lonely children going through rough patches at home. They connect through an online Scrabble game, and over the course of a week their lives intersect in ways they couldn't imagine. Jennifer Green, owner of Green Bean Books in Portland, Ore., recommended You Go First, praising its handling of "honesty, vulnerability, and the value of a single connection with a real friend." Available from Greenwillow Books on April 10.

Arriving from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on April 17, Jewell Parker Rhodes's Ghost Boys draws on tragic events, both recent and historical, to explore issues of class, racial bias and injustice. It is the story of a 12-year-old boy named Jerome, who is shot and killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real weapon. As a ghost, Jerome watches the effect his death has on his community and his family. Eventually, he meets other ghosts who help him understand what's going on, including Emmett Till and a girl named Sarah, the daughter of the police officer who shot Jerome. Ghost Boys is another selection from Jennifer Green of Green Bean Books, who called it "powerful and timely."

Picture Books
Brendan Wenzel, the award-winning author and illustrator behind They All Saw a Cat!, returns on March 20 with Hello Hello, a picture book showcasing the incredible diversity of animal life. It begins with two cats, one black and one white. From there each page presents a new animal, linked to the animal on the previous page by at least one shared characteristic. Hello Hello includes a glossary of every animal featured in the book, along with an afterword from Wenzel about conversation. A choice of Shelf Awareness's Siân Gaetano, Hello Hello will be available from Chronicle Books.

After Jessica Kensky and her husband, Patrick Downes, were both injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, a service dog named Rescue joined their family to help them learn to live with their new disabilities. In Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, Kensky and Downes, with illustrations from Scott Magoon, retell that moving and inspiring story, all from the perspective of their dog, Rescue. Sandy Loomis and Kimberly Cake, owners of Enchanted Passage Bookstore in Sutton, Mass., chose Rescue and Jessica as a children's book to watch this spring. It will be out April 3 from Candlewick.

In What If… author Samantha Berger and illustrator Mike Curato team up to tell the story of a young, imaginative girl determined to express herself. If she isn't allowed to draw or paint or sculpt, the girl will sing, dance and even dream. Featuring mixed-media illustrations and lyrical text, What If... is the story of a girl's imagination and breaking free of limitations, available from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on April 3. Angela Maria Spring of Duende District Bookstore called What If… "stunning," adding that Curato's illustrations are "breathtaking."

The final title on today's list is Good Night, Forest by author Denise Brennan-Nelson and illustrator Marco Bucci. As the day comes to an end and animals get ready to sleep, Good Night, Forest goes on a whimsical, rhyming tour of the evening woods, visiting with bunnies, coyotes, birds and more. Arriving on April 15 from Sleeping Bear Press, Good Night, Forest was recommended by Alyson Turner and the team at Source Booksellers in Detroit, Mich. --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle, "an Englishman who started a writing career in his 30s with sex-education books for children before making a spectacularly successful switch to the travel memoir genre with A Year in Provence," died January 18, the New York Times reported. He was 78. Knopf has published Mayle's books since A Year in Provence was released in the U.S. in 1990. His most recent book, The Diamond Caper, was released in 2015.

In 1987, Mayle and his wife, Jennie, moved to the village of Ménerbes in Provence. Although he had planned to write a novel, "with renovations to the 18th-century stone farmhouse they had bought in full swing, he kept getting distracted. His agent finally told him to shelve the novel and write about the distractions," the Times noted. The book's British publisher, Hamish Hamilton, ordered only 3,000 copies, but the book "just kept selling, reaching the million-copy mark in England and 600,000 in the United States." It was adapted into a TV miniseries starring John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan.

Mayle's books include a sequel, Toujours Provence, as well as Encore Provence, A Good Year, A Dog's Life, Hotel Pastis, Acquired Tastes, The Marseille Caper, and The Corsican Caper, along with the children's titles Where Did I Come From? and What's Happening to Me?. In 2002, he was honored as a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur for his contributions to French culture.


Boswell Book Company Among 'Reasons I Love Milwaukee'

In a Milwaukee magazine piece headlined "6 Reasons I Love Milwaukee," Dan Simmons cited "Storytelling" as one of his choices, noting that the "disruptive, tech-heavy last decade was not kind to local newspapers or independent bookstores. But Milwaukee has hung tough and weathered the storms much better than most cities of its size.... And Boswell Books has few peers. Someone forgot to share the memo with them about the vanishing indie bookstore in the age of Amazon."

'Things I Learned When I Became a Bookseller'

Bart King

In a blog post for the Oregonian, Portland writer Bart King shared "what he's learned after temping over the holiday season at several Powell's bookstores, including the City of Books location on West Burnside." His lessons:

  1. The world comes to you
  2. The children's section is life-affirming
  3. Unconditional positive regard
  4. Executive privilege
  5. People are funny
  6. Counter espionage

S&S to Distribute Regnery Publishing

Effective July 1, Simon & Schuster will handle distribution for Regnery Publishing titles in all markets and territories around the world. Regnery will continue to handle sales in the U.S. while S&S will handle sales in Canada and export markets.

Founded in 1947, Regnery publishes conservative books by Ann Coulter, David Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Dinesh D'Souza, Newt Gingrich, Mark Steyn, Mark R. Levin, Edward Klein, David Horowitz, Laura Ingraham and Donald Trump, among others. Its imprints include Regnery History, Gateway Editions, Regnery Kids, Little Patriot Press, LifeLine Press and Regnery Faith.

Personnel Changes at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; National Book Foundation

Effective January 29, John Sellers will join Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as publicity director, Books for Young Readers. He has been children's reviews editor at Publishers Weekly since 2009 and began his publishing career in the publicity department of Vintage/Anchor.


Anna Dobben is joining the National Book Foundation as awards and relationships manager. She was previously publicist at Knopf.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: David Cay Johnston on AM Joy

MSNBC's AM Joy: David Cay Johnston, author of It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501174162).

Fox News's Your World with Neil Cavuto: Doug Stanton, author of 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers (Pocket Books, $9.99, 9781501179952).

Movies: The Goldfinch

Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) has joined the cast of The Goldfinch, based on Donna Tartt's novel, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn), the film stars Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver), Sarah Paulson, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson and Aneurin Barnard. It begins shooting later this month.

Books & Authors

Awards: WNDB Walter​s; 800-CEO-READ Biz Book of the Year

Winners and honor books have been announced by​ ​We​ ​Need​ ​Diverse​ ​Books​ for the Walter​ ​Dean​ ​Myers​ ​Awards​ ​for​ ​Outstanding​ ​Children's​ ​Literature (the "Walters"). A ceremony​ ​will​ ​be​ ​held​ ​​ ​March​ ​16 at ​the​ ​Library​ ​of​ ​Congress, with ​National​ ​Ambassador​ ​for​ ​Young People's​ ​Literature ​Jacqueline​ ​Woodson ​as​ ​the​ emcee​ ​and​ ​guest speaker. This year's Walter Award honorees are:

Teenwinner: Long​ ​Way​ ​Down​ ​​by​ ​Jason​ ​Reynolds
Honor books: You​ ​Bring​ ​the​ ​Distant​ ​Near​​ ​by​ ​Mitali​ ​Perkins; and Disappeared​ ​​by​ ​Francisco​ ​X.​ ​Stork

Younger​ ​Readerswinner: Schomburg:​ ​The​ ​Man​ ​Who​ ​Built​ ​a​ ​Library​ ​​by​ ​Carole​ ​Boston​ ​Weatherford,​ ​illustrated​ ​by Eric​ ​Velasquez
Honor book:Forest​ ​World​ ​​by​ ​Margarita​ ​Engle

The​ ​Walter​ ​Awards​ ​Ceremony​ ​​will​ ​be​ ​preceded​ ​by​ ​​"Seen​ ​and​ ​Heard:​ ​The​ ​Power​ ​of​ ​Books," a​ ​symposium​ ​on​ ​diversity​ ​in​ ​children's​ ​literature,​ ​co-hosted by​ ​the​ ​Library​ ​of​ ​Congress and​ ​moderated​ ​by​ ​Newbery​ ​Medalist​  ​Linda​ ​Sue​ ​Park. WNDB​ ​will​ ​donate​ ​a​ ​minimum​ ​of​ ​2,000​ ​copies​ ​of​ ​each​ ​of​ ​the​ ​2018​ ​Walter​ ​Award-winning titles ​to​ ​schools​ ​with​ ​limited​ ​budgets​ ​across​ ​the​ ​United States.

"Significant​ ​changes​ ​in​ ​the​ ​publishing​ ​industry​ ​have​ ​been​ ​especially​ ​visible​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Walters," said ​Ellen​ ​Oh,​ ​founding​ ​director​ ​of​ ​WNDB.​ ​"The​ ​eligible​ ​titles​ ​submitted​ ​over​ ​the​ ​last​ ​three years​ ​since​ ​the​ ​awards'​ ​inception​ ​have​ ​increased​ ​dramatically,​ ​from​ ​50​ ​titles​ ​in​ ​2016,​ ​to​ ​almost 80​ ​in​ ​2017,​ ​to​ ​nearly​ ​200​ ​books​ ​that​ ​were​ ​considered​ ​for​ ​the​ ​2018​ ​Walters.​ ​The​ ​positive​ ​impact of​ ​the​ ​Walters​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​a​ ​fitting​ ​legacy​ ​to​ ​the​ ​late,​ ​great​ ​Walter​ ​Dean​ ​Myers."


Amy Goldstein won the 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year Award for Janesville: An American Story (S&S). The winner was announced at the company's annual industry gathering in New York City, where author Tom Peters was also given the fourth annual Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry.

"Goldstein's book presents an urgent, searing tale of the domino-decline of a proud and industrious community," said CEO Rebecca Schwartz. "Through Janesville we see the very human toll of what we as a country too often characterize as 'just business.' "

General manager Sally Haldorson added that Goldstein's book "tells a story about the majority of working people, people who most business books don't even nod at, and then only as people to manage: those who work on the shop floor or in the shopping mall, whose livelihoods became irrevocably compromised, whose 'side hustle' isn't a side hustle but the only way to buy groceries."

Reading with... Hermione Hoby

photo: Nina Subin

Hermione Hoby grew up in south London and has lived in New York since 2010. She is a freelance journalist who writes about culture and gender for publications including the New Yorker, the Guardian, the New York Times and the Times Literary Supplement. She has profiled Toni Morrison, Meryl Streep and Laurie Anderson, among many others. She also has written the "Stranger of the Week" column for the Awl. Her first novel, Neon in Daylight, was just published by Catapult.

On your nightstand now:

I'm going to take this question literally and just giving you an inventory of ziggurats: The Diaries of Virginia Woolf, Volume One; Four in Hand: A Quartet of Novels by Sylvia Townsend Warner; Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery; This Little Art by Kate Briggs; a quite notoriously bad translation of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain that's referenced in the former; Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle; The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James because 33 seems the right age to officially enter a James phase; The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa; Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang; Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado; City of Angels by Christa Wolf; Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli; and A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes because I just reread Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot and realized that, unlike its protagonist, I never read it as a student. So that's the lot. I get really panicky when the piles are too scant!

Favorite book when you were a child:

I remember loving the Philip Pullman novels and, around that very strange age of 10 or 11, spending large amounts of time wondering what my daemon would be. Now I think it would be an irritable crow, but back then I would probably have said something furred and pliable.

Your top five authors:

Oh, this is very hard. Don DeLillo, Maggie Nelson, Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, George Saunders. But ask me again in three years and it will probably be a different list. I mean, do I have to say Shakespeare, or is he gratis, like on Desert Island Discs?!

Book you've faked reading:

Not faked, exactly, but the university essay I wrote on the Middle English mainstay Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was not the most rigorously researched piece of writing there ever was.

Book you're an evangelist for:

So many! Too many, so I'm just going to limit myself to those read in the last year: the odd and brilliant Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner; Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney which made me feel like a teenager--obsessed and deranged and high; The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, aka the book that any woman who also wants to create things should read; The Answers by Catherine Lacey, which is hypnotically intelligent; and, finally, the deeply lovable The Idiot by Elif Batuman. I promise I read men sometimes, too. George Saunders, he's a man! Lincoln in the Bardo made me weep. Also Sergio de la Pava's dazzling A Naked Singularity, which should have got more love.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I just found this magical, weird, grubby clothbound "Scribners School Edition" of Ethan Frome from a used bookstore in Charlottesville. (Shout-out Daedalus Books!) It's yellow, with red lettering and a black illustration of a horse and cart, and the last person to take it out of New Milford High School in New Jersey was Jana Osborn, Grade 10, 1967. Hi, Jana, wherever you are.

Book you hid from your parents:

My parents are English teachers and among the most liberal people I know so there really wasn't much book-hiding going on; I don't think they would have cared if I was reading straight-up pornography at the breakfast table. I do remember, though, reading Chris Kraus's I Love Dick on the London Underground when I was callow enough to feel quite ostentatious about it. That all-caps lime-green Helvetica declaration.

Book that changed your life:

Literally speaking, probably A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, which I read when I was 14 because I didn't want to do my GCSE coursework on Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I know it's illegal to not like that book, even more so now, but dystopias and any whiff of the didactic have just never been my bag. Anyway. Forster's book, which I won't read again because I'd probably find it questionable, made me want to go to India, which I did, at 18. I was there for six months, teaching and traveling, and feeling wild and invincible. Less embarrassingly, I met my best friend there, and she changed everything.

Favorite line from a book:

Can I have two? They speak to each other. The first one is George Eliot: "For we all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them." And the second, is from the "book" of Joanna Newsom's lyrics: "Never get so attached to a poem that you forget truth that lacks lyricism." They'd get on well, I think, Joanna Caroline Newsom, Mary Anne Evans.

Five books you'll never part with:

A wedding present first edition of Infinite Jest, complete with the fetishised Vollmann misspelling. I read the book when I was 25, which is the perfect age to read all of David Foster Wallace (I exempted his really terrible-sounding book on rap, co-authored with another white guy). I remember crying when I finished. He'd died the year before, I think. Also, my mum's old and very handsome copy of George Eliot's Middlemarch, which I read while temping in London when I was 18. My ugly and very smooshed copy of Don DeLillo's Underworld, which I wrote my university thesis on. Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God because it's always the right time to read it, and all the volumes of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, for the same reason.

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

I'm going to get so much shit for this, but... Hamlet.

Character you most relate to in fiction:

I just read The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, which is both wildly romantic and an utter masterpiece. I hadn't thought those two things could fully coexist. It seems almost unworthy of the book, which reached out of somewhere and seized me with violence, to have this particular response to it because it seems quite a childish one, but, yes, I have never before wanted to be a character in a book and I deeply want to be Caro Bell: "She was coming to look on men and women as fellow-survivors: well-dissemblers of their woes, who, with few signals of grief, had contained, assimilated, or put to use their own destruction. Of those who had endured the worst, not all behaved nobly or consistently, but all, involuntarily, became part of some deeper assertion of life."

Book Review

Review: Feel Free: Essays

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith (Penguin Press, $28 hardcover, 464p., 9781594206252, February 6, 2018)

Zadie Smith (Swing Time) claims to be a little anxious about whether she is making a fool of herself. "I have no real qualifications to write as I do. Not a philosopher or sociologist, not a real professor of literature or film, not a political scientist, professional music critic or trained journalist... no MFA... no PhD." It doesn't matter. Her own well-educated and sensitive responses to whatever she observes are enough.

She has an open curiosity about so many things, and writes like a charming and brilliant friend who is dying to confide her ideas and learn what others have to say. There is a sense of excited discovery and potential in these essays, most of them written for the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker and Harper's. Despite her anxiety, she seems to treasure her own idiosyncratic and sometimes even naïve perspective, not wanting to pre-censor herself too much. Writing sympathetically about John Berger's wish to demystify art, she says: "He urged us to throw aside the school-taught sensations of high culture anxiety and holy awe. They were to be replaced with a fresh and invigorating mix of skepticism and pleasure."

Smith considers movies and books and art, her childhood neighborhood, politics, Facebook, diary writing, death, her parents, Schopenhauer and public libraries. "Dance Lessons for Writers" is a collection of notes for writers on sets of dancers--Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly, Janet Jackson/Madonna/Beyonce, David Byrne/David Bowie. "For me the two forms are close to each other: I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do... I often think I've learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading... lessons of position, attitude, rhythm and style."

She interviews Jay-Z, and comedy duo Key and Peele, and she imagines a meeting between Justin Bieber and Martin Buber: "I know, I know. But in my mind these two are destined to meet... by Buber's stringent measure, not only does the Belieber in the signing queue never really meet Justin Bieber, most people rarely--if ever--meet their closest friends, mothers don't always meet their children, and many a husband has never met his wife, though he may sleep next to her every night." Smith is one of the most skillful and enjoyable essayists working today, and there is plenty to discover, enjoy and argue with in these pages. --Sara Catterall

Shelf Talker: This is a substantial and enjoyable collection of recent essays by acclaimed British author Zadie Smith.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Wi13 & the Art of Listening

Next week, I'll leave my relatively quiet life in upstate New York and spend a few days conversing with--but mostly listening to--booksellers, authors, publishers and other bookish folk at the American Booksellers Association's Winter Institute, which is being held this year in Memphis, Tenn. Wherever we are at any given moment, we'll probably be talking books. All books all the time. It's a little taste of paradise.

Opening reception at last year's Winter Institute.

The mystical OtherWorld of book industry conferences and trade shows is like a suspended state of time and reality, featuring practical advantages over real life (room service, daily housekeeping), as well as a mass gathering of people who care deeply about books and aren't afraid to say so out loud. Encounters range from casual chats over drinks to public colloquies during education sessions; from early morning, bleary-eyed exchanges at author breakfasts to mobile dialogues as we all move from one scheduled event to the next.

While Wi13 is about discussions, and I'll have my share, my primary job will be listening carefully. I may also be told things in confidence that inform--and sometimes alter or enhance--my perspective on the book trade. I won't, however, tell you about these chats, even though they're every bit as important as the "on the record" quotes I do share. This is not so much about protecting sources as honoring the spirit of conversation by recognizing a clear borderline.

Listening is key. I think I'm a good listener. I love the fact that listen and silent share the same letters. And while silence may seem like an odd skill to cite when writing about attending a "conference," which by definition assumes there will be ongoing discussion, I'm pretty adept at silence as well. Oddly, a tendency toward the silent life can actually be a strength in my line of work, as it used to be when I was handselling as a bookseller. A paradox is probably lurking in the weeds there, but somehow it all works out.

How did I handsell? I listened and made recommendations. How will I write about Wi13? Same drill. I'll listen and respond. Maybe I've always been in the listening business.

What sent my mind spinning in this direction is no mystery. I've been reading Erling Kagge's recent book, Silence: In the Age of Noise (trans. by Becky L. Crook, Pantheon). He notes at one point that, during his travels to Japan, he learned something important about the role of silence in conversation: "For while we Norwegians experience silence in a conversation as something that cuts it off--a good journalist knows that the best moments in an interview often come just after they have put away their laptop or voice recorder and officially ended the interview--silence in Japan comprises a significant portion of the conversation.... The silence seems to be just as rich in its content as the words."

I suspect many of us quiet types had something of a learning curve to become excellent handsellers. We learned how to read an ARC not just for our own pleasure, but with other potential readers/customers in mind. We learned to ask ourselves if this was a book we could imagine placing in the hands of talented readers as if we were offering them the most precious gift in the world. We learned to listen to our customers before we handsold them a title. We asked questions, processed the answers and decided what titles might interest them before making recommendations. We realized that the art of conversation was enmeshed in the art of listening, and trumped the lesser art of literary evangelism every time.

Based upon years of unscientific observation, I know our business has a substantial number of people who could be described--and would probably describe themselves--as "quiet." So would many of their customers. A life of reading books can do that to a person, but I won’t fall down the rabbit hole of chicken v. egg or nature v. nurture. I'll just quietly submit the increasing popularity of Silent Book Clubs (see BookBar in Denver, Colo.) as at least one shred of evidence. You take it from there.

"It's easy to think silence is about turning your back on the world," Kagge told the New York Times not long ago. "For me, it's the opposite. It's opening up to the world, respecting more and loving life." I'll try to remember that next week in Memphis. And if I seem a little quiet at times during our conversations, don't worry. That's just me listening.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives at Fresh Eyes Now)

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