Also published on this date: Thursday, May 10, 2018: Dedicated Issue: John Joseph Adams Books

Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 10, 2018


Little Brown and Company: The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett M. Davis

Grove Press: The Heavens by Sandra Newman

Quirk Books: Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made by Josh Frank, adapted with Tim Heidecker, illustrated by Manuela Pertega

Other Press: Wanderer by Sarah Léon, translated by John Cullen

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: 8 Little Planets by Chris Ferrie, illustrated by Lizzy Doyle

Flatiron Books: Save Me from Dangerous Men (Nikki Griffin #1) by S.A. Lelchuk

Berkley Books: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

News

Creating Conversations Opens Bookstore; Mysterious Galaxy's 25th Anniversary

Creating Conversations, a partner business of San Diego's Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore with a focus on author events, book fairs and conferences, has opened a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in Redondo Beach, Calif. According to the Beach Reporter, the store is located in the Creating Conversations offices and sells a selection of new fiction and nonfiction.

The store and events company are owned by Terry Gilman, who is also the managing partner of Mysterious Galaxy. Gilman has created a variety of original programming for Creating Conversations over the years, including the event series Ladies, Lunch, and Literacy, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this April with events featuring Meg Wolitzer and Madeline Miller.

"We've had some pretty stellar authors over the years," Gilman told Beach Reporter.

---

Congratulations are also in order for Mysterious Galaxy as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. The store opened on May 8, 1993, with a host of renowned science fiction and fantasy writers in attendance, including Ray Bradbury. In the years since, Mysterious Galaxy has hosted thousands of author events, become a bookselling fixture at Comic-Con International and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and recently participated in the San Diego Bookstore Crawl on Independent Bookstore Day.

"We believe books matter," said Maryelizabeth Yturralde, Mysterious Galaxy's events coordinator and co-owner. "And we believe booksellers matter. Mysterious Galaxy could not have achieved this landmark without sharing the magic of books via the power of community, from authors and other industry professional to readers."

Mysterious Galaxy will celebrate its anniversary this Saturday, May 12. Authors David Brin and Alan Russell, who were part of the opening day celebrations in 1993, will be back, along with more than 20 other genre writers. There will be events for all ages--and much cake.


Rare Bird Books, A Vireo Book: Easy for You to Say by Stuttering John Melendez


New Owners for Canterbury Book Store in Escanaba, Mich.

Canterbury Book Store's new owners, Becky Bender and Jesse Traub.

Canterbury Book Store in Escanaba, Mich., has new owners. Becky Bender and Jesse Traub purchased the shop from Shirley Hivala, who has retired after 34 years in business.

In a note on the bookshop's Facebook page, the new owners said they started operating the store on April 17 and "are still getting familiar with the place and learning how to run a bookstore, and really, how to run a business generally. But we are open for business and are just starting to replenish stock, so come by to look around, or stop by to say hi!"

Bender told WLUC the decision to buy the store was irresistible: "We didn't want it to close so we said 'What can we do?' and the answer was to buy it." An Escanaba native, she recalled coming to the shop as a child. "Canterbury was like a special treat to be able to get something to take home and read."

Traub added that owning a bookstore had been a dream dating back to his own childhood, and the city's response has already been supportive: "It's been overwhelmingly positive. The people of Escanaba have been so supportive and so loving and so kind." He also noted that they "hope to provide the things you can't get online. A sense of community. Someone to talk to about the book you just read and the ability to browse before you buy. A chance to encounter new authors and new book that you didn't even know you were looking for."

Canterbury Book Store is planning a grand opening celebration on June 2.


Graywolf Press: Scribe by Alyson Hagy


AAP Sales: 2017 Up 0.4%; Trade Books Up 1.3%

In 2017, total net book sales in the U.S. rose 0.4%, to $14.7 billion, representing sales of more than 1,200 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers.

Trade book sales during the year rose 1.3%, to $7.6 billion, buoyed by growth of 3% in adult books, to $5.054 billion, which constitutes more than 65% of all trade book revenue. By contrast, children's/YA sales fell 2.1%, to 2.055 billion. Religious presses were down 1.8%, to $447.8 million, while university press sales rose 5.3%, to $58.7 million. Higher education sales rose 0.2%, to $3.5 billion, the category's first increase in several years, and K-12 sales were down 3.6%, to $2.8 billion. The category that grew most was professional books, which rose 8.4%, to $687.5 million.

As for format, downloadable audiobook was the most striking category, with a sales gain of 29.7%, to $343.3 million, the fifth straight year of double-digit growth for downloadable audio; revenue for the category has tripled since 2012.

E-book sales were again down, off 4.7%, to $1.1 billion, falling for the third year in a row, but this decline was lower than previous years' declines. Print book sales overall rose 1%, to $5.7 billion, and hardcovers rose 3%, to $2.7 billion.

 


Yale University Press: The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World by William D. Nordhaus


UPNE's Closing: Distribution Clients Scramble; Dartmouth Press in Doubt

The planned closing later this year of the University Press of New England, the publishing consortium of colleges and universities founded in 1970, will affect more than the two remaining partners, Dartmouth College and Brandeis University. UPNE also acts as a distributor for at least 15 small and medium-sized presses, including Academia Press, Carnegie Mellon University Press, Four Way Books, Northeastern University Press, Oberlin College Press, Omnidawn Publishing, Peter E. Randall Publisher, the University of New Hampshire Press and Wesleyan University Press.

UPNE also distributes selected titles from museums, including the Boston Athenaeum, the Peabody Essex Museum and Wadsworth Atheneum.

Quite a few of distributed presses have small staffs that rely on UPNE for everything from design and production to sales and marketing. (Some are former full members of UPNE.) For many of the distributed presses, Dartmouth's announcement caught them by surprise. One noted that "the off-ramp is short," with spring 2019 "just around the corner." Several with whom Shelf Awareness discussed the situation uniformly praised UPNE's staff and their work, saying that it had greatly helped their publishing program, and enabled them to publish more books and reach more readers.

For her part, Martha Rhodes, director of Four Way Books in New York City, said that although she needs to make a decision soon about a new distributor, "I am trying to take some time to educate myself and the staff. We've spoken to distributors' clients, the distributors themselves and booksellers, and we've also re-examined our own goals, needs and expectations. I want this move to offer stability and the opportunity to thrive." Four Way Books celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, "so I guess it is fitting that a big change is on our horizon," she continued. "UPNE has been an important partner in our enterprise. We are indebted to them."

Sales of the core publishers at UPNE account for about $1.5 million, and, with all distribution clients included, total sales are about $2.5 million. As the last two member publishers, Dartmouth College and Brandeis University have to contribute an estimated $400,000 annually to cover shortfalls. For many, this amount was minimal in the effort to support research and scholarship and its dissemination--the goal of most institutions of higher learning.

But like many other colleges and universities, Dartmouth has felt pressed enough financially to cast a wary eye at areas of the institution that it doesn't consider core parts and that, by some definitions, don't pay their way. As Jere Daniell, professor emeritus of history at Dartmouth, who was involved with UPNE from its beginnings in 1970, told the Valley News: "Dartmouth is going through a process of shifting away from financial losers among its nonacademic things." Another example is the school golf course, which Dartmouth said last year it's considering closing in order to sell or repurpose the land.

UPNE employs 20 people, who will be let go over the course of the year. Several years ago, UPNE had a staff of 24 but stopped replacing those who left, including editor-in-chief Phyllis Deutsch, who retired last summer--indicating that the Dartmouth administration's decision to close UPNE may have been made much earlier than this year. For some UPNE employees, the prospect of finding a similar job in the area is daunting, given that their skills are specialized and UPNE is located in Lebanon, N.H.

Some staff felt that the Dartmouth administration decided to close UPNE without giving the organization a chance to address the school's concerns. In addition, few are confident about the future of the Dartmouth College Press. The administration has said it is forming a faculty study group to look into the matter. By contrast, Brandeis University has said that its press is an important part of its institutional mission.

Unlike the threatened closures in the past two years of the University of Missouri Press and the University Press of Kentucky, the closing of UPNE has caused very little protest. In part, this may be because so far the UPNE closing doesn't involve the closing of a single press. Yet, for the many involved in it, it feels that the effect of UPNE's closing is much greater than the loss of a single press.


Soho Press: Insurrecto by Gina Apostol


Obituary Note: Susan Ann Protter

Susan Ann Protter, who "became a literary agent in the 1970s, representing authors in various genres, including SF writers and editors Rudy Rucker, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer," died April 26, Locus magazine reported. She was 78. Protter began her publishing career "working for Harper & Row in the subsidiary rights department (where, a lifelong progressive, she encouraged publishing workers to unionize)," Locus wrote.

A post on her Facebook page announcing Protter's death noted that "her decision to become a literary agent was a combination of 'why not' as well as a 'what else.' She spent the rest of her working life representing writers. It was work she loved and she was very good at it."


Hampton Roads Publishing Company: Cannabis: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Marijuana by Danny Danko


G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

According to Susan Kamil, Random House executive v-p and publisher, Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss is "for readers of A Man Called Ove or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, novels where one feels the central character will never overcome their own emotional shortcomings or burdens, but, miraculously do." Curmudgeonly Cambridge professor of Economics P.R. Chandrasekhar does not, at first, appear capable of miracles, or even of changing his mind. But he is--and he does, thanks to a run-in with a bicyclist and a doctor's charge to follow his bliss. Author Rajeev Balasubramanyam wields considerable humor, the perfect antidote to our polarized and exhausting present, while crafting a tender and thoughtful tale. This is an absolute gem of a book. --Stefanie Hargreaves, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

(Dial Press, $27 hardcover, 9780525511380, March 26, 2019)

CLICK HERE TO ENTER
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Shelf vetted, publisher supported

 


Notes

Image of the Day: David Duchovny on His Career, Writing and More

Books Inc. Opera Plaza, San Francisco, was the final stop on David Duchovny's tour for his novel Miss Subways (FSG). Some 200 people attended, and he spoke about writing and his career. Pictured: (l.-r.) booksellers Summer Dawn-Laurie, Elena Eustaquio, Duchovny, Hannah Walcher, Connie Lin and Zach Stein.


Murder on the Beach Owner 'Keeps the Mystery Alive'

Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, Delray Beach, Fla., was recently showcased among Atlas Obscura's "62 of the World's Best Independent Bookstores, with local author Susan Cox noting that the store "is an active member of the mystery community.... Best of all, the store (meaning the staff) has a playful sense of humor.... Customers come to Murder on the Beach from all over the state of Florida. As a mystery author myself, I feel very lucky to live close by."

To celebrate the notoriety of the bookstore that remains "an essential haunt for gumshoe devotees," Boca magazine featured a q&a with Murder on the Beach owner Joanne Sinchuk. Among our favorite responses:

Has the mission of Murder on the Beach changed at all since you founded the store in 1996?
I don't think so. We're doing everything that we used to do--literary luncheons, writers' workshops, author signings. Our workshops are taught by published local authors, and they help them develop their presence in the literary community, above and beyond routine book signings.

Joanne Sinchuk

We had a good season this past year. They say independent bookstores are picking up, and we could feel that. We had a lot of big-name authors: Jeffery Deaver, Stuart Woods, Lisa Gardner. I think that's reflective of the publishers doing more for independent bookstores.

What's your secret for survival when so many bookstores have fallen to the mighty Amazon?
Hard work. And also, some bookstores don't want to do events outside the store. We sell books for the Palm Beach County public library system, whenever they have an author event, and at the Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale libraries.

Do new people still discover the store?
At least once a week someone will say, "I didn't realize there was a bookstore here."


Personnel Changes at Chronicle Books; Audere Media

At Chronicle Books:

Kathleen Miller has been promoted to sales coordinator on the national specialty team. Previously she was a sales assistant.

Julie Williams has been promoted to senior sales manager. Previously she was a national accounts manager.

---

Kerri Kennedy Calistri has joined Audere Media, the publicity and marketing consultancy. She was formerly a freelance publicist and events coordinator at Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass. Earlier she was an assistant director of publicity at Simon & Schuster and was James Patterson's publicity brand manager at Little, Brown.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Phil Knight on CBS This Morning

Today:
CBS This Morning: Phil Knight, author of Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike (Scribner, $20, 9781501135927).

Tomorrow:
Harry: Kathie Lee Gifford, author of The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi: My Journey into the Heart of Scriptural Faith and the Land Where It All Began (Thomas Nelson, $24.99, 9780785215967).


This Weekend on Book TV: Condoleezza Rice

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend 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 website.

Saturday, May 12
1:40 p.m. Jonathan Weisman, author of (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump (St. Martin's Press, $25.99, 9781250169938).

2:45 p.m. Amanda Marcotte, author of Troll Nation: How the Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set on Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself (Hot Books, $21.99, 9781510737457).

6:30 p.m. Peter Rubin, author of Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life (HarperOne, $27.99, 9780062566690), at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, Calif. (Re-airs Monday at 6 a.m.)

7:30 p.m. James Simon, author of Eisenhower vs. Warren: The Battle for Civil Rights and Liberties (Liveright, $35, 9780871407559).

8:50 p.m. Sally Kohn, author of The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity (Algonquin, $27.95, 9781616207281), at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

10 p.m. Jerome Corsi, author of Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump (Humanix Books, $29.99, 9781630061029). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Condoleezza Rice and Amy Zegart, authors of Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations Can Anticipate Global Insecurity (Twelve, $30, 9781455542352). (Re-airs Sunday at 8 p.m.)

Sunday, May 13
12 a.m. Alan Jasanoff, author of The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are (Basic Books, $30, 9780465052684).

11:10 a.m. Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (Harvard University Press, $29.95, 9780674286078), at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Monday at 5:10 a.m.)

3:30 p.m. Scott Tong, author of A Village with My Name: A Family History of China's Opening to the World (University of Chicago Press, $28, 9780226338866), at Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe in Washington, D.C.

6 p.m. Pat Cunnane, author of West Winging It: An Un-presidential Memoir (Gallery, $28, 9781501178290), at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.

6:50 p.m. Stacey Abrams, author of Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change (Holt, $28, 9781250191298), at the Strand in New York City.

10 p.m. Alisa Roth, author of Insane: America's Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness (Basic Books, $28, 9780465094196), at Book Culture in New York City.

11 p.m. David Faris, author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics (Melville House, $24.99, 9781612196954), at City Lit Books in Chicago, Ill.



Books & Authors

Awards: Indies Choice Book and the E.B. White Read-Aloud

The winning titles and honor titles of the 2018 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, have been announced and can be seen here. Authors and illustrators will be honored at the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch on Wednesday, May 30, during BookExpo.

Among the awards:

Adult Fiction Book of the Year: Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)
Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday)
Adult Debut Book of the Year: Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Audiobook of the Year: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, read by Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, George Saunders, and a full cast (Random House Audio)
Young Adult Book of the Year: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray)

E.B. White Read-Aloud Award--Middle Reader: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends)
E.B. White Read-Aloud Award--Picture Book: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)

Indie Champion Award: Jason Reynolds

Indie Champion Honorees:
Judy Blume
David Levithan
Celeste Ng
Jesmyn Ward
Jacqueline Woodson

Picture Book Hall of Fame Inductees:
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams)
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Schwartz & Wade)
We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Margaret K. McElderry Books)


Reading Group Choices' Most Popular April Books

The two most popular books in April at Reading Group Choices were The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil (Crown) and The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict (Sourcebooks Landmark).


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, May 15:

How Bernie Won: Inside the Revolution That's Taking Back Our Country--and Where We Go from Here by Jeff Weaver (Thomas Dunne, $27.99, 9781250144751) is by the manager of Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign.

Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney (Morrow, $28.99, 9780062748362) explores Reagan's 1988 trip to the U.S.S.R.

By Invitation Only: A Novel by Dorothea Benton Frank (Morrow, $27.99, 9780062390820) follows two families of different social strata united by a marriage.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781501153198) is a thriller about two sisters who enter a reality TV show.

Do This for Me: A Novel by Eliza Kennedy (Crown, $26, 9781101907207) follows a female partner at a Manhattan law firm.

The Stuff: Unlock Your Power to Overcome Challenges, Soar, and Succeed by Sharlee Jeter and Sampson Davis (Gallery/Jeter Publishing, $27, 9781501175152) looks at how to tackle life's obstacles.

How to Grill Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Flame-Cooked Food by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 9780544790308) features 1,000 recipes for grilling every kind of ingredient. (May 14.)

Flavor Bombs: The Umami Ingredients That Make Taste Explode by Adam Fleischman and Tien Nguyen (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 9780544784895) is a cookbook by the founder of Umami Burger and 800 Degrees Pizza.

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour, illustrated by Brett Helquist (Putnam, $16.99, 9781524738655) is middle grade fantasy about a cloud garden that keeps a cloudship running.

Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! The Itchy Book by Mo Willems and LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, $9.99, 9781368005647) finds Triceratops, Pterodactyl, Brontosaurus and T-Rex all with itches--but dinosaurs don't scratch.

Paperback:
A Million Drops by Victor del Árbol, translated by Lisa Dillman (Other Press, $19.95, 9781590518458).

Movie:
On Chesil Beach, based on the novel by Ian McEwan, opens May 18. Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle star as troubled newlyweds.


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover
Stray City: A Novel by Chelsey Johnson (Custom House, $25.99, 9780062666680). "A coming-of-age story about Andrea, a Midwestern, Catholic, artistic lesbian who escapes her family to try and find herself. After moving to Portland, Oregon, in the '90s, Andrea gets involved in printmaking and music, meets a circle of people she depends upon, experiences a breakup, and finds a new friend. I could not put this novel down once I started it. When I was down to the last 10 pages, I read as slowly as I could, savoring every last word about the people I had come to know in Stray City. Such a good story!" --Nona Camuel, CoffeeTree Books, Morehead, Ky.

Paris by the Book: A Novel by Liam Callanan (Dutton, $26, 9781101986271). "In Paris, there is a bookstore called The Late Edition, where books are shelved geographically, and while readers can find any book by its story's setting, the store's proprietor Leah cannot locate her missing husband and searches for him throughout the city. In Paris by the Book, Paris is equal parts Madeline and The Red Balloon, the children's books that shape Leah's view of the City of Light. I'd compare Callanan's engrossing third novel to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and The Little Paris Bookshop, but with its confounding but ultimately loveable heroine, there's a bit of Where'd You Go, Bernadette in the story as well. This captivating novel is filled with rich characters, a twisty plot, a bit of mystery, and a heaping dollop of joie de vivre." --Daniel Goldin, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis.

Paperback
Miss You: A Novel by Kate Eberlen (Harper, $16.99, 9780062460233). "Tess and Gus first cross paths in Florence as 18-year-olds with their futures stretching ahead of them. Back in England, they live their lives oblivious to all the near-misses and chances they have to encounter one another again. The meandering way their lives circle each other is charming rather than frustrating, but the heart of this book lies in the choices Tess and Gus make as their lives unfold in ways neither anticipated. Exceptionally poignant and filled with relatable and deeply human characters, this is a thoughtful story about how you can never quite guess what life has in store for you--and maybe that's for the best." --Kelly O'Sullivan, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn.

For Ages 4 to 8
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (Dial, $17.99, 9780735229358). "The Rabbit Listened is the story of a toddler who is stumped by the collapse of their play block tower. A number of animals offer Taylor solace and support, but when the child relates the whole incident and ideas for revenge or rebuilding, the fact that somebody simply listens and hears is most inspiring." --Jilleen Moore, Square Books, Oxford, Miss.

For Ages 9 to 12
Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O'Connor (Putnam, $16.99, 9780399161933). "Set during the summer of 1968, a profound relationship develops between Mr. Marsworth, an elderly recluse (and draft dodger), and Reenie Kelly, the young girl who delivers his newspaper. Reenie is trying to save her older brother from being drafted, and through written correspondence seeks Mr. Marsworth's help. There are numerous threads to this story, stunning secrets revealed, and various perspectives on the Vietnam War represented. All of the characters are well-drawn, distinct, and memorable, plus there are very provocative, discussion-worthy themes." --Mark Adam, Mrs. Nelson's Book Fair Company, Pomona, Calif.

For Teen Readers
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston (Balzer+Bray, $17.99, 9780062652850). "The perfect way to sum up this action-packed, heart-wrenching, and humorous book that came out of Ashley Poston's dark and dastardly brain is Anastasia meets Firefly. From the first page, there is action and adventure, with plenty of laughs, gasps, and sighs mixed in. By the end of the book, you will want--and need--more. Seriously." --Renee Becher, Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, Colo.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Review: Sick

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (Harper Perennial, $15.99 paperback, 272p., 9780062428738, June 5, 2018)

Iranian American novelist Porochista Khakpour explores body and mind in the throes of chronic illness in her unflinching memoir, Sick.

Khakpour (The Last Illusion) is no stranger to suffering and the psychological torments of marginalization. As a child, she fled war and chaos in Iran. Her family eventually resettled in Los Angeles. From a young age, Khakpour harbored an inimical feeling of otherness as she and her parents tried to assimilate into American culture. Casual bigotry against Middle-Easterners followed her in many places and finally exploded into the mainstream with the election of Donald Trump. Sick, however, centers on a more fundamental kind of alienation, that of the mind against one's own ill body. "I am a foreigner," she writes, "but in ways that go much deeper than I thought, under the epidermis and into the blood cells."

Khakpour suffers from advanced-stage Lyme disease. It took years to figure out what was causing severe, if irregular, anxiety, insomnia and debilitating weakness. She duly chronicles her medical journey, from doctor to doctor, and various tick-laden locales, all potential infection sites. Lyme disease is a mysterious and misunderstood illness. People often attribute the symptoms to psychiatric causes rather than pathogens, Khakpour explains. She doesn't hold back on medical professionals who dismiss her and others with the disease as simply crazy. Sick shines much needed light on the nature of Lyme disease and the way reinfections sneak up and devastate normal life.

A gifted literary writer, Khakpour takes her memoir beyond medical and technical aspects of illness. She traces its emotional impacts in her relationships with friends, lovers, her parents. She explores her own demons as well, her struggles with substance abuse and the vagaries of literary fortune. At the same time, she never lets her guard down in the face of white supremacy and other forms of discrimination. One of the most disturbing passages in the book describes a boyfriend inexplicably exploding in a fit of anger and attacking her. With deft descriptive prose, Khakpour melds all these experiences together until sickness becomes a metaphor for her identity and the anguish of broken existence. But hers is still a vibrant striving toward wholeness: "when the body feels out of place it will cling to anything that looks like life. Cities. Homes. People. Lovers."

Writing is a form of wholeness, Khakpour discovers. It makes room for tragic realities. "This book is, it turns out, a miracle book," she says, "because it wrote its own ending, insisted on its own ending." Sick is a hard-hitting memoir that succeeds not through personal crucification but honest and vivid self-reflection. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Shelf Talker: In this compelling memoir, Iranian American author Porochista Khakpour confronts Lyme disease and her own sense of alienation.


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