Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 2, 2018

University of Texas Press: Grief Is a Sneaky Bitch: An Uncensored Guide to Navigating Loss by Lisa Keefauver

Berkley Books: Hair-raising horror to sink your teeth into!

Berkley Books: The Hitchcock Hotel by Stephanie Wrobel

Queen Mab Media: Get Our Brand Toolkit

Ballantine Books: Gather Me: A Memoir in Praise of the Books That Saved Me by Glory Edim

Ace Books: Rewitched by Lucy Jane Wood

Graywolf Press: We're Alone: Essays by Edwidge Danticat

St. Martin's Press: Runaway Train: Or, the Story of My Life So Far by Erin Roberts with Sam Kashner


Stillwater Books Opens in Pawtucket, R.I.

Stillwater Books, a new independent bookstore selling both new and used books, opened yesterday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in downtown Pawtucket, R.I., the Valley Breeze reported. The store's inventory features a large selection of titles by local, Rhode Island authors, and in addition to books Stillwater carries cards and some gift items.

The store also serves as an office for Stillwater River Publications, an independent publisher with a focus on books by Rhode Island authors. Before Stillwater Books opened in Pawtucket, the publisher was based in Chepachet.

A grand opening celebration, meanwhile, is planned for the weekend of March 17.

BINC: Click to Apply to the Macmillan Booksellers Professional Development Scholarships

AAP Sales: Huge Jumps in October

What a difference a year makes. In October, total net book sales in the U.S. rose 27.6%, to $1.164 billion, compared to the same period in 2016, representing sales of 1,204 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. For the first 10 months of the year, total net book sales were up 1.7%, to $12.441 billion.

Many categories had striking double-digit gains in October, possibly because the previous October was the height of the last presidential election, when many people were distracted by the campaign.

In October trade book sales rose 16.5% and were up 1.6% through 2017. Among the fastest-growing formats were downloaded audio, up 41.4%, and hardcover books, up 25.1%. E-books declined in all categories except religious and university press.

Sales by category in October 2017 compared to October 2016:

Watkins Publishing: Fall Into Folklore! ARCS Available On Request

Boston's Trident Booksellers & Café Damaged by Fire

Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston will be closed until further notice following a fire late Wednesday night. Manager Courtney Flynn told the Boston Globe that the fire broke out in the dry storage area on the second floor about 11:45 p.m. Everyone was evacuated and firefighters responded quickly. The fire's cause has not yet been determined. Most of the damage was caused by water from the sprinkler systems.

"The water was ankle deep on both floors," said Flynn. "We have a lot of stuff to face, but there are so many things to be thankful for--the firemen came so quickly; the sprinklers did their job; there were people here who could respond quickly. Now we just have to see what shape the store is in, and see what we can save."

On Twitter last night, Trident wrote: "Thank you everyone for your outpouring of support after last night's fire. We have a great community in Boston and hope to be back up and running soon! While our doors may be closed, you can still shop our collection online."

Belmont Books in Belmont, Mass., posted on its Facebook page: "Our friends at the Trident Booksellers & Cafe in Boston had a fire in their store this morning. The fire department put it out pretty quickly, but unfortunately there's a lot of water damage and it will take some time for the Trident owners and staff to get the store back in shape again.

"What can you do to help? We're glad you asked. Buy gift cards! No, not from us--from them! Buy one for yourself, your friends, family, teachers, babysitters, dog walkers... anyone. The money will help the store get back on its feet, and when they re-open, you can all go together and get some truly excellent books. Now, go. Buy. Help. Thanks!"

Jennifer Egan Named PEN America President

Jennifer Egan
(photo: Pieter M. Van Hattem)

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan is the new president of PEN America. Egan, who succeeds Andrew Solomon, has been a PEN America Trustee since 2013. She is the author most recently of Manhattan Beach, awarded the Carnegie Medal for literary excellence in fiction in February. She will work in partnership with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel.

"The power and meaning of the written word are central to the complexities we face today--both as a nation, and globally,'' said Egan. "To my mind, freedom of expression is a basic human right. I'm honored to uphold and act as a steward of this right, and of PEN America's mission.''

Nossel commented: "Amid mounting daily affronts to free speech and open discourse, we turn to the imagination, narrative and creative inspiration as wellsprings to fuel our defense against assaults on expression, facts and truth. A writer both renowned and beloved, Jennifer Egan's consummate skill, insight and humanity make her a perfect leader for PEN America at a time when our mission faces grave challenge."

In other news, the organization announced completion of a planned unification with the PEN Center USA in Los Angeles, whose members ratified the move in a vote that concluded last week. PEN America also announced its 2018 Board of Trustees, including three incoming members from the former PEN Center USA. A full listing of new members is available here.

#WorldBookDayUK Weathers the Snowstorm

As weather alerts went up across the U.K. and Ireland and Storm Emma brought snow, wind and travel warnings, World Book Day participants managed to find reasons to celebrate, the Bookseller reported. Organizers advised: "Don't let the weather stop you from celebrating #WorldBookDay! #ShareAStory and tweet us a picture of you reading today!" Here's a brief weather-inspired sampling of #WorldBookDay social media posts:

World Book Day UK: "There's snow stopping us! With Arctic temperates hitting the UK, people are celebrating World Book Day at school and at home."

World Book Night UK‏: "Happy #WorldBookDay from all of us over at #WorldBookNight! If the #snow is hampering your celebrations and you can't get to your local library or school today, fear not, as there are still lots of exciting ways to #ShareAStory:"

The Royal Family: ‏Happy #WorldBookDay! This photograph was taken in c.1940 and shows The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, reading with Princess Margaret in Buckingham Palace."

Books Are My Bag: "Happy World Book Day, book lovers! Sledge to your local bookshop and pick up some new books to see you through the weekend."

The Bookshop Kibworth‏: "Happy World Book Day one and all, from a snowy Kibworth! First time our WBD window has had snow on its ledge in 9 years!"

The Highland Bookshop, Fort William: "It's World Book Day (UK & Ireland) and despite #UKSnow and #Snowmageddon The Highland Bookshop, Fort William is open! Clear blue skies and crisp fresh winds make it an ideal day to get down to the High Street and pop in. Spend your #WorldBookDay voucher with us or even just enjoy a browse in out newly opened Big Outdoors Lounge... where better to spend World Book Day than supporting your local?"

Scottish Book Trust: "Don't let the #WorldBookDay weather get you down! If your kids are stuck at home on #snowday, in their fancy dress outfits, why not treat them to one of many live-recorded author events from our #BBCAuthorsLive on demand page."

All Saints Library‏: "Just so you all know, if you have a snow day on @WorldBookDayUK you HAVE to spend the WHOLE day reading, in bed if possible, with a mug of hot chocolate and a hot water bottle. It's the LAW!!!!"

The Ripped Bodice Releases 2nd Report on Diversity in Romance Publishing

Leah (l.) and Bea Koch

In a new report on the state of racial diversity in romance publishing, Bea and Leah Koch, owners of the romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice in Los Angeles, Calif., have found that in 2017, for every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers, "only 6.2 were written by people of color." This marks a decrease from last year's survey by the Koch sisters, which reported that in 2016, 7.8 out of every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers were written by people of color.

80% of surveyed publishers had fewer than 10% of their books written by people of color, while half of surveyed publishers released either the same amount of titles by people of color or fewer in 2017 as compared to 2016. Publisher Crimson Romance had the highest percentage in 2017 of titles published by writers of color; its rate of 29.3% marked an increase of 17% over its rate in 2016.

The sisters released the findings of their initial survey last fall, and plan to release more reports annually. So far, they said, many publishers have had a "decidedly muted response." But while it was disheartening to see a decline, they added that they remain hopeful that in the years ahead "publishers will have no choice but to improve because their customers will demand it."


The Writer's Block in Vegas Offers 'Individuality, Soul'

Observing that "even in an era of online and big-box retail, there are things that Amazon, or even the likes of Barnes & Noble, can't do as well as local retailers can," the Las Vegas Sun showcased three locally owned shops that "are earning your business back from online retailers," including the Writer's Block bookstore.

"Amazon might be able to recommend titles based on what you've read before, but its algorithms can only make educated guesses at how you're feeling. For a shrewd, intuitive choice--one that might run counter to your previous reading--you need Drew Cohen," the Sun wrote, referring to the bookshop's co-owner.

"Either I've gotten better at identifying what people want to read, or to some extent I've influenced it. And I don't know which is which," he said. "I think that that kind of transparency, and also the social joy of communicating with someone who likes the same things you do, is something you're not going to get if you purchase a book online. I definitely have a better sense of what people in Vegas like to read, and what they're coming back for again and again. That's something that just takes time, and that only an independent store can do....

"When you shop here, you're investing in your local economy in a way that you can appreciate in the moment. You're putting your dollars into a store that pays local taxes and contributes to the entire infrastructure of your community. That's a positive to shopping locally, no matter what the product is."

The Sun noted that a trait all three local retailers profiled share is they "have individuality, soul. Knowing that they're nearby is a source of hometown pride. Even with their massive web store, sprawling warehouse and global reach, Amazon could never deliver something quite so important as that."

Bookstore Chalkboard of the Day: Mysterious Galaxy

Maryelizabeth Yturralde, co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, Calif., sent us a photo of the shop's chalkboard, on which "booksellers Darcy and Kelly replicated the gorgeous cover art to announce local author Tomi Adeyemi's launch party in chalk!"

Library of Congress, Dolly Parton Team for Story Time

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library are partnering to sponsor a monthly reading program for young readers at the Library of Congress. From March through August, the library's Young Readers Center will host story time on the last Friday of each month in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building. The event features a reading of a book for children up to age five, music and special guests. Programs will also be livestreamed on the library's Facebook page and its YouTube site (with captions).

The announcement was made during a special presentation by the Imagination Library, which mails free books to children from birth to age five in participating communities in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. Parton presented the 100 millionth book her project has given away to the Library of Congress.

"Dolly Parton's work through her Imagination Library is awe-inspiring," Hayden said. "They have counted the number of books given away--100 million--but there is no way to truly quantify the impact this program has had on developing young readers across America and in other parts of the world. This is an extraordinary gift to humankind. The Library of Congress shares this passion for developing young readers and I am so pleased to announce these cooperative programs, which will provide an opportunity for children anywhere to connect with a fun, engaging reading experience."

Parton commented: "I always like to say that 100 million books have led to 100 million stories.  I am so honored that our little program is now grown to such a point that we can partner with the Library of Congress to bring even more stories to children across the country."

Personnel Changes at Touchstone; Little, Brown

Meredith Vilarello has been promoted to associate publisher at Touchstone. She joined Touchstone in 2010 as imprint marketing manager.


At Little, Brown:

Sabrina Benun has been promoted to associate marketing director for James Patterson's and JIMMY's marketing.

Lauren Passell is promoted to director of social media.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Stephanie Wittels Wachs on Weekend Edition

NPR's Weekend Edition: Stephanie Wittels Wachs, author of Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss (Sourcebooks, $25.99, 9781492664109).

Food Network's the Kitchen: Valerie Bertinelli, author of Valerie's Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family (Oxmoor House, $30, 9780848752286).

Movies: Motherless Brooklyn

Bobby Cannavale (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Dallas Roberts (Dallas Buyers Club) have joined the cast of Motherless Brooklyn, based on Jonathan Lethem's novel and currently filming in New York City," Deadline reported.

Cannavale plays Tony Vermonte and Roberts plays Danny Fantl in the film directed, written and produced by Edward Norton, who also plays Lionel Essrog. Other stars are Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Ethan Suplee, Leslie Mann, Josh Pais, Fisher Stevens, Michael K. Williams and Robert Wisdom. Motherless Brooklyn will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Books & Authors

Awards: Blue Peter Winners

Winners were announced in two categories for this year's Blue Peter Book Awards, chosen by more than 500 schoolchildren across the U.K. to " honor amazing authors, imaginative illustrators and the best books for children." This year's winning titles are:

Best story: The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
Best book with facts: Real-Life Mysteries by Susan Martineau, illustrated by Vicky Barker

In addition, author and illustrator Judith Kerr received a Gold Blue Peter badge for her contribution to children's literature.

Blue Peter editor Ewan Vinnicombe commented: "It's been another fantastic selection of titles for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2018. It was great to see the enthusiasm the children had for voting in our awards and I'm thrilled that Gold badge holder Cressida Cowell can now add a Blue Peter Book Award to her collection. I think we've inspired some readers to become the next set of mystery solvers by reading the Best Fact Book winner by Susan Martineau, illustrated by Vicky Barker. Judith Kerr's Gold badge is very well deserved with her books as popular now with our audience as ever."

Reading with... Moriel Rothman-Zecher

photo: Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

Moriel Rothman-Zecher is an American Israeli writer, poet and novelist. Born in Jerusalem, he graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Arabic and political science. He's a recipient of a 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellowship for Literature, and his work has been published in the New York Times, Haaretz, the Paris Review's Daily and elsewhere. He is the author of the novel Sadness Is a White Bird (Atria, February 13, 2018), and he lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with his wife, Kayla, and their dog, Silly Department.

On your nightstand now:

On the novel front, I just finished Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, and just started Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride is up next.

In terms of nonfiction, I am rereading segments of a beautiful, meditative book about running and death called Poverty Creek Journal by Thomas Gardner and the collected writings of Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.

I'm also reading a lot of poetry these days: American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, edited by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav; The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin; Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems by Robin Coste Lewis; A Well of Milk in the Middle of a City (Hebrew: Be'er Halav B'Emtza Ir) by Hezy Leskly.

And I am slowly but surely making my way through Ulysses by James Joyce--I'm a little over halfway through it, and I do intend to persevere. 

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon was one of my favorite books when I first read it at age 12, and remains one of my favorites to this day. I still remember the exquisite mixture of astonishment, relief and joy I felt upon reading Chabon's depictions of Joe Kavalier, who was described as having an "aquiline nose" and as being handsome. The fictional character of Joe Kavalier did a lot for my real-life self-confidence as a big-schnozzed--ahem, aquiline-nosed--preteen.

Your top five authors:

"Top five" feels too daunting--but if I may wordsmith a little and reframe this question as "five of my tops," I'll nominate this quintet:

James Baldwin
Ben Lerner
Eimear McBride
Zadie Smith
David Foster Wallace

Book you've faked reading:

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. For some odd reason, in early high school, I backed myself into something of corner by saying that I'd read The Catcher in the Rye--and hated it. When I was 19 or 20, I finally read it. And liked it just fine.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I don't often write in-depth book reviews (although I do have a Google doc that I share with close friends in which I recommend, in three or four lines, my favorite 25 books I read each year), but after reading Infinite Jest six years ago, I wrote this review/rave/recommendation.

Book you've bought for the cover:

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib. I was immediately drawn to the defiant, tautological title, and to the odd, enthralling cover image of a slightly befuddled-looking wolf wearing a thick gold chain and a red tracksuit--at once vulnerable and strange, fierce and earnest. (The essays were excellent--and the author is also from Ohio!)

Book you hid from your parents:

Well, an edition of the Kama Sutra that I somehow got my 12-year-old hands on. Maybe also Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne.

Book that changed your life:

There are so many, but I think, for this one, I'll go with Born to Run by Chris McDougall. I'd estimate that 17 out of every 20 books I read are novels, but this work of nonfiction was my gateway into the joys and quirks and possibilities of long-distance running. Running, in turn--and in particular trail running, with marathons and ultramarathons thrown in along the way to keep me moving--is how I keep sane, sharp, joyful and well--mentally, physically, spiritually. I do a lot of my writing--revising, plotting, editing, dreaming--while on the trails. And there was a lot of resonance between the experiences of running my first ultramarathon and writing my first novel.

Favorite line from a book:

I adore the following passage from Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It is, in general, an exquisite, delightful book. I won't go into its plot for fear of ruining the wondrous surprise this book delivers, but I will say that reading it made me a better and wiser and wider person. Anyhow, the passage is from a section in which the narrator Rose's family are discussing the SATs:

" 'I remember Rose's scores.' Peter whistled appreciatively. 'I didn't know how impressed I should have been. That's a hard test, or at least I thought so.' Such a sweetheart. But don't get attached to him; he's not really part of the story."

Five books you'll never part with:

A signed galley of Jacqueline Woodson's novel Another Brooklyn. A highly annotated version of A Land of Two Peoples, which is a collection of Martin Buber's writings and letters edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr. My tattered and scribbled in edition of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. My copy of Khirbet Khizeh by S. Yizhar. An old, gray volume, Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy (I liked the stories well enough, but this particular copy is mostly important because of the fact that I first scribbled Kayla Zecher's phone number on the inside cover, back when I was Moriel Rothman).

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

Lore Segal's Her First American. It is such a marvelously strange, moving, funny and beautiful book, and each page contained new surprises, heartbreaks, insights and idiosyncrasies. The book is packed with understated, brilliant dialogue, and the details of Ilka and Carter's relationship--and of the world bustling and flailing around them--make this one of my favorite novels.

Book Review

Review: The Fighter

The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith (Little, Brown, $26 hardcover, 256p., 9780316432344, March 20, 2018)

Set in the famous blues crossroad town of Clarksdale, Miss., Michael Farris Smith's third novel (after Rivers and Desperation Road) is its own kind of blues song. The Fighter is the story of the orphan Jack Boucher. His long road of institutions and foster homes ends on the 200 acres of the never-married Maryann, who raises him with the only love he's ever known. With few skills besides willfulness and a strong physique, Jack leaves at 17. He aims to make his way as a bare-knuckle cage fighter on the backwoods circuit filled with "men who killed dogs with other dogs." They are "a suffocating mass of the drunk and disturbed."

After some years of success, Jack sustains a massive concussion and, despite self-medication with pills and booze, his battered body finally gives out. In his 40s, he drags himself back to Clarksdale to see Maryann as she lies with advanced dementia in a nursing home. Her multigenerational home is in foreclosure, and Jack owes $12,000 to the vicious local loan shark Big Momma Sweet. Good luck at a Natchez casino brings him enough to cover his nut, but bad luck rears its head when his truck crashes and the money disappears while he stumbles to get help. Talk about the blues.

Winner of the 2014 Mississippi Author Award and born in Mississippi to a Baptist minister, Smith writes with the Delta river silt and cotton fields in his blood and the vernacular of its mostly poor denizens in his ear--like the triple negative comment of a man at an all-night gas station: "You don't look like you never won much of nothing." His characters are the rural downtrodden who grow up "in a mob of brothers and sisters. Uncles and aunts and cousins. All living in three mobile homes on the edge of a junkyard." Fate plays a bigger role than faith, and The Fighter's plot rolls along on happenstance as much as deliberation. Jack's casino stash winds up in the hands of the young tattooed Annette, who's working a traveling outlaw carnival. A believer in what she calls her "church of coincidence," she runs into Jack at a gas station on the outskirts of Clarksdale and sees in him the link to the father she never knew. With the recovered cash and Annette in his corner, Jack rolls the dice on one last fight in Big Momma's boondocks cage.

In the tradition of the Mississippi literature like Faulkner and Larry Brown, The Fighter is rich in character and landscape, but more insidiously, in the hard life and meager hopes of those who live there. As Annette tells Jack before his last fight: "There is a great big world spinning around and sometimes it spins against you. Sometimes it spins with you. And sometimes it spins us right into what we need." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Shelf Talker: A dark bluesy tale, The Fighter is the raw story of a broke-down Mississippi cage fighter searching for deliverance in whatever form it appears.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Michael Perry, Montaigne & the 485 Singularity

Michel de Montaigne turned 485 years old February 28 and is still reading well for his age. Last Friday, I went to an author event at the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., featuring Michael Perry, author of Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy (Harper).

Rachel Person, events & community outreach coordinator for the Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and author Michael Perry

We first met in 2002, when I was a bookseller at the Northshire's Manchester Center, Vt., store and he was touring for Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. On Wednesday, Perry duly noted the curious "Montaigne and the 485 Singularity." For the record, I did not play 4-8-5 in the N.Y. State Lottery daily numbers game. I got lucky; it didn't come in.

I've been one of Perry's many dedicated readers for more than 15 years now. We've also had a few good conversations over the years, both here in the Northeast and at bookseller conferences in the Midwest. Despite the geographical differences in our upbringing (his in Wisconsin; mine in Vermont), we have some things in common and our all-too-brief chats are always a fair trade of good thoughts. I like the way he thinks, and writes, about life. And maybe that's why we both like Montaigne.

In the introduction to his new book, Perry observes that his goal was to "write of Montaigne in terms of exploration rather than declaration. I admit the angle of my appreciation lacks academic rigor, but I believe Montaigne would not object: he shares up-culture and down-culture with equivalent alacrity, operating under the hearty assumption that your appetite for Seneca's interrogatories on courage neither precludes nor prevents your giggling at a fart joke."

Introducing his younger daughter to the synergy between going to a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and a demolition derby on the same weekend ("groundlings" is one connection), he strikes a familiar chord. My wife has noted more than once my habit of reading great, and lesser, works of literature while watching NASCAR (Those races are long, man!). 

Perry was in the Northeast for a brief drive-yourself book tour. "I'm grateful to Harper and the northeastern indies for supporting a DIY-style tour well outside my regional base," he told me. "I've been doing things that way since my first self-published book, and I think independent booksellers relate to the hustle-to-survive ethos. Working to find readers. I stretched the tour budget by operating out of a friend's farmhouse located centrally to all my New York and Connecticut stops. Lots of driving, but that is some beautiful country."

He is quick to acknowledge his debt to indies: "In 2002 I was this unknown writer from the rural Midwest hustling a book about small towns and volunteer firefighters/EMTs. Someone in New York told me they weren't sure 'those folks' would read a book. Indie booksellers on the other hand--especially those in less populous areas--understood the 'vollie' culture and how it permeated the country, and handsold me into existence by conveying that element of the book to their customers--not just in the Midwest, but all around America. They also knew when to switch gears and emphasize other elements of the book, depending on the customer. Population 485 is still alive and well and thriving thanks to indie booksellers who continue to not only tell its story but understand it."

We've talked more than once about writing as both work and calling. "At this stage in my life, I think of 'work' as anything that a.) gives me the sense that I am making some useful forward progress, and b.) simultaneously helps keep my little family fed and housed," Perry said. "So, stacking firewood and finishing a newspaper column both count. Because of my background (farming, logging) I still have a big blue-collar hangover, that whole idea (as I've written) that if you can't stack it or stack with it, it ain't real work. (And a stack of books doesn't count.) For the most part this predisposition keeps me grounded and grateful, but it can also become pathological and lead to a lot of dumb stubbornness. With each passing day I am ever more grateful to those writers and other artists in my life who help me understand the value lies not so much in what you work but in how you work. How and why."

During q&a at the Northshire event last week, a student from the local college said one of her English professors had told her she was sometimes too discursive in her essays, a little overfond of "shiny thoughts." She wanted Perry's take on that criticism. I liked his answer.

"I sometimes get very discursive," Perry replied. "So it's not so much getting rid of all those shiny thoughts, but it's knowing which ones to get rid of and then which ones to let breathe and run. In the book, I write about Montaigne saying how delightful it is when the prose goes by 'the gait of poetry, all jumps and tumblings,' and I love that.... I love the way language flows and sounds, the way I see it in my head.... and so sometimes in the books you let that stuff go."

Near the end of his talk, Perry thanked his audience members for being there: "When you show up for events like this, and you buy a book, you're not just supporting art, you're taking care of my family, and I do not take that for granted." It was a good night to be in a bookstore.

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

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