Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 14, 2018

Little Brown and Company: This Bird Has Flown by Susanna Hoffs

St. Martin's Press: Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Dundurn Press: Chasing the Black Eagle by Bruce Geddes

W by Wattpad Books: Hazel Fine Sings Along by Katie Wicks

St. Martin's Press: The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop

Soho Crime: The Rope Artist by Fuminori Nakamura, transl. by Sam Bett

Flatiron Books: Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature by Sarah Hart

Grand Central Publishing: Goodbye Earl: A Revenge Novel by Leesa Cross-Smith


Bogan Books Opens in Fort Kent, Maine

Bogan Books, "a tiny little indie bookshop with a big heart and kaleidoscope of good vibes," held its soft opening September 12 at 130 West Main Street in Fort Kent, Maine. The bookstore features "unique editions--used and new--bestsellers, cookbooks, Maine themes, physical and spiritual health, young adult, first readers and so much more!"

On Facebook, owner Heidi Carter shared a video tour of Bogan Books and posted: "Today is the big day! I will be opening today at 10:00. There are a few things still in the works. My sign, for example--pretty important--but it is not yet complete. (Me! Of all people!) Soon! There will be a logo on the door, but just in case: Bogan Books is located at 130 West Main Street, Fort Kent. It is a cute little brick building near Shear Perfection. My bookshop is tiny, but it sure does hold quite a bunch. Please be patient with me as I settle into this new endeavor. There is so much to learn and not everything is ready to go, but I am considering this my soft opening in order to see what else I might need to work on. There will be aspects of the shop that will come in the not too distant future. My Used Books are coming soon, but I was unable to catalog them for today. Same with my collectibles. BUT THEY ARE COMING. I am hopeful by next week. There are so many other wonderful books and tidbits waiting for you to explore. I can't wait to see you!"

Parallax Press: Radical Love: From Separation to Connection with the Earth, Each Other, and Ourselves by Satish Kumar

B&N Pop-Up Opens in Wilkes-Barre

B&N's temporary store in Wlikes-Barre.

Three months after being severely damaged by a tornado, the Arena Hub Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., opened a temporary pop-up store in the East End Center yesterday, the Citizens' Voice reported. B&N has signed a six-month lease to occupy the 30,000-square-foot former Sears Outlet store that closed in June last year. Work continues at the Arena Hub store, though a reopening date has not been set.

On its Facebook page, B&N announced the opening and posted: "Thanks and gratitude to all of you for your patience and understanding as we worked this summer to get the new place ready. See you Thursday!"

William Morrow & Company: The God of Good Looks by Breanne Mc Ivor

Mandy Archer Is New Head of Harry Potter Publishing

Mandy Archer

Mandy Archer has joined Bloomsbury Children's Books to head up its Harry Potter publishing team, effective September 18. The Bookseller reported that as editorial director and head of brand, a newly created role, she "will lead the creative team driving Bloomsbury's brand development program and be responsible for the long-term Harry Potter publishing strategy." She will report to director and editor-in-chief Rebecca McNally.

Archer has been a freelance publishing consultant and collaborated with Bloomsbury on the 2017 Harry Potter History of Magic books and exhibition at the British Library. She co-founded editorial and design studio 38a The Shop and was previously creative head of children's books at BBC Worldwide.

She described the prospect of working on the Harry Potter list as "every editor's dream come true and an opportunity I could not resist." McNally added: "It matters very much that everything we do with this extraordinary brand shows our commitment to quality and integrity and I'm delighted that we've persuaded the wonderful Mandy Archer to join our team and lead this next stage of publishing magic."

Shelf Awareness Job Board: Click Here to Post Your Job

'Amazon Global Store' Launches in Saudi Arabia

SOUQ, the online retail and marketplace website owned by Amazon, has launched an "Amazon Global Store," which offers customers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the ability to shop for over one million products from Amazon in the U.S. The dedicated Amazon Global storefront is available on both the SOUQ website and mobile app.

"When we acquired, our goal was to provide the best possible service for millions of customers in the Middle East by supporting them with Amazon technology and global resources," said Samir Kumar, v-p of international retail. "Amazon Global Store is the first step of many in doing so, and represents Amazon's confidence in the region and that our continued investment will provide customers with more of what they want--the largest selection combined with a reliable shopping experience that includes unique products and international brands from the U.S. and beyond."

Saleem Hammad, general manager KSA,, commented: "We are excited about making over one million popular products from Amazon available on to customers. This brings global selection closer to our customers in the region, and we will continue to grow this further. We share the same vision as Amazon and focus on providing our customers with best-in-class selection, great prices and a convenient shopping experience."

Executive Changes at Bonnier Books UK

Bonnier Books UK has made three new executive promotions, the Bookseller reported. Kate Parkin, previously executive director of adult fiction at Bonnier Zaffre, has been promoted to managing director of adult trade, a new role in which she will take on responsibility for the company's adult trade publishing across eight imprints.

In addition, Jane Harris, who was previously executive director for children's fiction at Bonnier Zaffre, has been promoted to the position of managing director of children's trade and will now lead the children’s editorial teams across six imprints. James Horobin, currently executive director for sales, marketing and publicity at Bonnier Zaffre, will be group sales, marketing and publicity director of trade, Bonnier Books UK.

Parkin, Harris and Horobin will all report directly to Bonnier Books UK CEO Perminder Mann, who commented: "With 15 Sunday Times bestsellers this year so far, our trade publishing is going from strength to strength and I'm confident that it will continue to thrive and evolve under the proven and dedicated leadership of Kate, Jane and James. Over the last three years, they have successfully built our fiction division from the ground up and are widely known and respected within the industry. I'm looking forward to working with them to transform Bonnier Books UK into a fully-fledged publisher."

Following "profitability problems" in 2017, Bonnier Books UK has had a series of executive shakeups this year, including Mann's appointment as CEO in July.

G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
The Wisdom of Morrie:
Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully
by Morrie Schwartz, edited by Rob Schwartz
GLOW: Blackstone Publishing: The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully by Morrie Schwartz, edited by Rob Schwartz

Twenty-five years ago, Mitch Albom immortalized his former college professor in Tuesdays with Morrie, the blockbuster memoir that shared Morrie Schwartz's profound insights about life as he was dying of ALS. In The Wisdom of Morrie, Rob Schwartz, Morrie's son, resurrects his father's voice, sharing Morrie's philosophical wisdom and humor about the aging process--what can be an emboldening period filled with meaning and purpose. "This book is invaluable to anyone interested in improving their quality of life," says Rick Bleiweiss, head of new business development at Blackstone Publishing. "Readers who enjoy[ed] The Last Lecture and When Breath Becomes Air will expand their awareness and find new ideas and insights into living more fully." Schwartz's musings are timeless, and inspirational for readers of all ages. --Kathleen Gerard

(Blackstone Publishing, $25.99 hardcover, 9798200813452,
April 18, 2023)


Shelf vetted, publisher supported


Image of the Day: Bragg Wins SIBA Conroy Legacy Award

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Rick Bragg has received the 2019 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Conroy Legacy Award, which recognizes writers "who have achieved a lasting impact on their literary community, demonstrated support for independent bookstores, both in their own communities and in general, written work that focuses significantly on their home place, and supported other writers, especially new and emerging writers."

Bragg received the award from SIBA executive director Wanda Jewell, at yesterday's opening breakfast at SIBA's fall conference, taking place in Tampa, Fla., this week.

The award was created to honor the example set by beloved Southern author Pat Conroy. SIBA will make a donation to the Pat Conroy Literary Center and to the Margaret Bragg Scholarship for first generation college students at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala., in the winning author's name. Bragg is also a contributor to Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy, edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt (Univ. of Georgia Press).

"I heard Pat Conroy read his work aloud and it will almost make you abandon this craft for good and take up something like brick laying," said Bragg. "The elegance and beauty of it always, across decades, made me think 'Oh, so this is what it is supposed to sound like, be, linger in the mind.' The fact he once said good things about my own work made me walk on air. I mean it, my step was lighter somehow. To be presented his award by people who have been with me since the beginning of my writing life, in his name, is as fine a thing as I can ever expect."

SIBA Bookstore Chalkboard of the Day: Inkwood Books

To welcome attendees to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Discovery Show in Tampa, Fla., this week, local indie Inkwood Books shared a photo of its sidewalk chalkboard sign, noting: "There's going to be lots of booksellers in the area this week. So many wonderful things to do and see in our city. I’ve tagged just a few within walking distance of our store, but hit up @shopoxfordexchange and @mojobooksandrecords for their recommendations too. Welcome to Tampa, #SIBA18."

The chalkboard reads: "Welcome #SIBA18 booksellers and anyone else who likes beer (free samples) and books (not free, but very valuable)."

Happy 55th Birthday, Munro's Books

Congratulations to Canadian bookseller Munro's Books in Victoria, B.C., which is marking "55 years since Jim Munro first set up shop in our original location--a long, narrow space on Yates Street that would later appear in Alice Munro's short stories," the bookshop's Facebook page noted. "A lot has changed since 1963, when paperbacks were a rarity in bookstores and the notion of reading from a screen was restricted to science fiction. But we've held onto the values that helped that little shop grow into one of the world's top 10 bookstores: passion, curiosity, and a fierce commitment to the readers who help us thrive year after year.

"So this fall, we'd like to thank all of our customers for what each of you do to keep Munro's a haven for book lovers everywhere. None of this would be possible without you. Please join us on Saturday, September 15 to celebrate our birthday and all things bookish.... Here's to 55 more years of reading and dreaming!"

Personnel Changes at DK; Sourcebooks

At DK:

Carol Stokke has been promoted to v-p, sales, and will be responsible for the U.S. sales team.

Billy Fields has become director, publishing operations.

Kristin Pozzuoli has become senior marketing manager, education & library.

Laura Hernandez has been promoted to marketing coordinator.

Rob Roglev, director interactive media, is leaving the company.


At Sourcebooks:

Heather Moore has been promoted to director of marketing, Jabberwocky. She was previously senior marketing manager, Jabberwocky, and has worked in the publicity and marketing departments at Sourcebooks for more than 15 years.

Valerie Pierce has been promoted to director of marketing, retail & creative services. She was previously senior marketing manager, retail & creative services.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Doris Kearns Goodwin on Meet the Press

Fresh Air: John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way, among many other titles.

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me: P.J. O'Rourke, author of None of My Business: P.J. Explains Money, Banking, Debt, Equity, Assets, Liabilities, and Why He's Not Rich and Neither Are You (Atlantic Monthly Press, $27, 9780802128485).

Fareed Zakaria GPS: C.J. Chivers, author of The Fighters (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781451676648).

Meet the Press: Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Leadership: In Turbulent Times (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781476795928).

TV: Cornell Woolrich Stories

Phoenix Pictures and Renaissance Literary & Talent "are teaming to develop a television anthology based on a series of short stories by prolific mystery writer Cornell Woolrich," Deadline reported. Among the titles to be included are A Death Is Caused, After-Dinner Story, Death Sits in the Dentist's Chair, For the Rest of Her Life, The Moon of Montezuma, Mystery in Room 913, The Murder Room, The Dancing Detective and The Death Rose.

Phoenix Pictures' Chairman/CEO Mike Medavoy and Benjamin Anderson will executive produce the potential series, along with Alan Nevins, who represents the Woolrich Estate. Deadline noted that as a fan of the author, Medavoy "had been tracking the Woolrich material for years. The Woolrich library has been a complicated rights issue with more than five owners controlling the nearly 300 properties in the Estate. Renaissance has spent years untangling the web of rights issues and, additionally, now represents all five proprietors."

Woolrich "was thought of as one of the best crime writers of his day, along the ranks of Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler," Deadline added. To date, he is the most adapted crime author in the film noir era, with Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window and Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black among his credits.

"We are excited to have been entrusted with bringing these incredible short stories to television together and to have the opportunity to explore Cornell Woolrich's beloved material," Medavoy said.

Books & Authors

Award: Shakespeare's Globe; NBA Longlists for Poetry, Nonfiction

Simon Smith won the £3,000 (about $3,910) Shakespeare's Globe Book Award, a "biennial prize for a study of the Bard's early modern plays and the playhouse in which they were performed," for his book Musical Responses in the Early Modern Playhouse, 1603-1625, the Bookseller reported.

His monograph was chosen from a shortlist that also included Shakespeare's Two Playhouses: Repertory and Theatre Space at the Globe and the Blackfriars, 1599-1613 by Sarah Dustagheer; Hamlet's Moment: Drama and Political Knowledge in Early Modern England by Andras Kisery; and Shakespeare and Manuscript Drama by James Purkis.


The longlists for the 2018 National Book Awards for Poetry and Nonfiction consist of:

Wobble by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press)
feeld by Jos Charles (Milkweed Editions)
Be With by Forrest Gander (New Directions)
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (Penguin)
Museum of the Americas by J. Michael Martinez, (Penguin)
Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen (Omnidawn Publishing)
Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed (Coffee House Press)
lo terciario/the tertiary by Raquel Salas Rivera (Timeless, Infinite Light)
Monument: Poems New and Selected by Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Eye Level by Jenny Xie (Graywolf Press)

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson (Bloomsbury)
The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation by Colin G. Calloway (Oxford University Press)
Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll (Penguin)
Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple (One World/Penguin Random House)
American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson (Liveright/Norton)
The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen (Simon & Schuster)
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh (Scribner)
Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books)
The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Oxford University Press)
We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler (Liveright/Norton)

The shortlists will be announced in October. Winners will be announced at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 14 in New York City.

Reading Group Choices' Most Popular August Books

The two most popular books in August at Reading Group Choices were Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris (Sourcebooks Landmark) and Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar (Thomas Nelson).

Reading with... Sandra Gail Lambert

photo: Adrianne Mathiowetz
Sandra Gail Lambert, a 2018 NEA Creative Writing Fellow, is the author of A Certain Loneliness (University of Nebraska Press), a memoir that probes disability, queerness and desire. It is a frank and funny rendering of her lifelong struggle with isolation and independence after contracting polio as a child. She is also a former co-owner of Charis Books in Atlanta, Ga., and the author of a novel, The River's Memory. She lives in Gainesville, Fla.--a home base for trips to her beloved rivers and marshes.
On your nightstand now:
It's a tiny nightstand, but it supports a Jenga-like tower of books. I'm reading Lauren Groff's Florida because, well, it's Lauren Groff and we all should read everything she's ever written, but also because she lives down the road from me and writes about people and places I know. Read and ready to be passed on to a friend is What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by the Brazilian-Jewish writer Noemi Jaffe. The title is problematic, but the combination of the diary of her mother who survived the camps followed by the author's story of its effect on her, and then her own daughter's reflections is powerful. Nnedi Okorafor's novella Binti; Against Memoir by Michelle Tea; By the Forces of Gravity, a graphic memoir by Rebecca Fish Ewan; Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker edited by Julie R. Enszer; and Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel are waiting in the tower. At a conference recently, I heard the prose writer Karin Lin-Greenberg read an amazing story and so I have her collection Faulty Predictions at the ready as well. Under my pillow is an e-reader where I'm reading The American War by Omar El Akkad. The truth is that I wanted to check it out because the description made it seem similar, maybe too similar, to a novel I've just finished and am shopping around to agents. To my relief, it's not too similar and in addition, quite interesting.
Favorite book when you were a child:
From ages six through nine, my only access to books written in English was the tiny library provided to us military families stationed in Norway. I was a voracious, always desperate for more reader, so it wasn't long before I finished all the children's and young adult books available. The librarian then let me roam freely. (Hurrah for librarians.) There still weren't many choices, but for some reason the shelves were full of Taylor Caldwell titles, and I read them all. I didn't understand most of the "mature" stuff, but that didn't matter. They were thick books that told simple, grand stories and that satisfied me. But eventually my mother noticed the stack of adult books in my room. She had a "talk" with the librarian, and that was the end of that. Later in life, I learned Taylor Caldwell was an anti-Semitic John Bircher. Yikes. 
Your top five authors:
Questions that want me to pick and choose about books are like asking me to favor one child, parent, pet or friend over another. First, even if I have a favorite, it's inconsiderate to say. And second, the answers I give today are only for today. That said, besides the other authors I've spoken of, I'll read anything Annette Gordon-Reed, Dorothy Allison, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Louise Erdrich, Cynthia Barnett, Sarah Einstein and Tayari Jones writes. (I know that's seven authors, not five, but this is me being as restrained as possible. I mean I didn't even mention Joanna Russ. Or Yaa Gyasi.)
Book you've faked reading:
Anything by W.G. Sebald. When the occasion arose, I'd nod gravely in fake agreement about the significance of his work. But I became worried I'd be found out, so I read The Emigrants. Wowzer! I have a bulletin board next to my writing bed where I post sentences I admire. For a while, it was covered with Sebald quotes from edge to edge.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life by the late Harriet McBryde Johnson. She was a disability activist who in her writings combined a fierce intelligence with a generous and funny take on humans. I didn't begin writing seriously until I was in my 40s and this was one of the books that make me want to.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Even though I lived a lot of my growing-up years in Norway, I didn't discover Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy until much later. It was the cover of a young woman in traditional medieval Norwegian dress that attracted me. I had an instant memory of the May 17th National Day celebrations where I paraded in the streets with women dressed in red and rich blue, gorgeously embroidered dresses with bunad pins sparkling from their chests.
Book you hid from your parents:
When I was a teenager, we were stationed back in Oslo. One of the rebellious things us military brat teens did was to go downtown to the Chinese Embassy where they handed out free copies of Mao Tse-tung's (old spelling) Little Red Book. Most of us had one hidden somewhere away from the sight of the chief warrant officers (my father), captains, generals, colonels and lieutenants who were our fathers.
Book that changed your life:
Growing up, science fiction books were the only place I saw my life reflected in a positive way. I was a little girl with crutches and leg braces in a world that had set ideas of what was possible for me, which was mostly a list of what was not possible. But then I discovered the science fiction of writers such as Heinlein, Sturgeon, Le Guin, McIntyre and Lynn, where being unable to stand on your own just meant you were on a heavy gravity planet, and having short, twisted legs was regular for your species, and adaptive devices didn't imply anything negative about your intelligence, spirit of adventure or sexiness.
Favorite line from a book:
"To believe in something not yet proved and to underwrite it with our lives: it is the only way we can leave the future open." Lillian Smith was a Southern white woman, a not-that-closeted lesbian, who wrote about and advocated for the dismantling of "old South" racial attitudes--in the 1930s and '40s. The quote is from her collection of essays The Winner Names the Age.
Five books you'll never part with:
Every book by Ursula Le Guin that I've collected over the 40 years of reading her. Of course, I think The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness are brilliant, but my heart will always belong to Rocannon's World, especially the story of Semley. Dang, I've made myself cry like I always do to even think of her.
The Pocket Books edition of Kindred by Octavia Butler that I bought in 1981. Besides science fiction affirming that disability is a natural variation of the human condition, Octavia Butler also made the genre an entry for me into a better understanding of racial injustice.
Peterson Field Guide to Birds by Roger Tory Peterson--the 1984 version. It was a birthday gift from my lover at the time. She was the person who took me on camping and canoeing adventures and awakened my love of the natural world.
Sappho Was a Right-On Woman: A Liberated View of Lesbianism by Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love (1972). Although the cover is disintegrating, the pages are yellow and most likely bug-infested, and I'll probably never read it again, I keep it to remind me how wondrous it was just to see the word lesbian in a book.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Poetry always reveals more with each reading, so I'm thinking Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds and Robin Coste Lewis's Voyage of the Sable Venus are due for another look.
Five books that are resources for your own writing:
There are books that have been a model for what I've wanted to be able to write as well as giving me permission to try. For the memoir it was Kenny Fries's Body, Remember with its articulation of aloneness; The Ice Cave, Lucy Jane Bledsoe's essays about the natural world; the irreverence of Mean Little Deaf Queer by Terry Galloway; and the lyricism of Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Of course, the expansive humaneness of writers like Harriet McBryde Johnson and Ursula Le Guin is something I carry with me into all my work.

Book Review

Review: The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm by Tana French (Viking, $28 hardcover, 528p., 9780735224629, October 9, 2018)

Edgar winner Tana French (The Trespasser) diverges from her Dublin Murder Squad procedural series for the first time with a hair-raising standalone that asks if knowing oneself is truly possible.
Toby Hennessy always thought of himself as the lucky sort. He enjoys his job in art sales, loves his gentle girlfriend, Melissa, and has supportive lifelong friends and a close family. Even when his boss catches him covering for a coworker's fraud at the gallery, Toby manages narrowly to escape firing. When bad luck finally rains on him, though, it pours; one night after he's had a pleasant booze-up at the pub with his best friends, burglars break into his apartment and savagely beat him. Left with fractures and a head injury, he wakes up in the hospital forever changed. Not only does he have a long rehabilitation ahead of him, but the brain trauma has also blurred segments of his memory and left him with aphasia as well as trouble concentrating and regulating his anger.
Solace comes in an unexpected form when his cousin Susanna suggests Toby should stay a few weeks at their family home, the Ivy House, to keep an eye on their beloved Uncle Hugo, an elderly genealogist dying of cancer. Toby surprises himself by enjoying his time there, assisting Hugo with his research and watching Melissa seamlessly integrate into his family. However, their idyll shatters when Susanna's small children find a human skull in the hollow wych elm in the Ivy House's garden, and police identify it as belonging to a high school classmate of Toby, Susanna and their cousin Leon. As suspicion falls on his family, Toby tries to unravel the case before the cops do, but he must suspect everyone, even himself.
While an amateur sleuth as protagonist marks a departure from French's customary focus on a murder detective's point of view, her dark and thoughtful tone remains. Toby's ancestral home comforts him, but to the reader, it often feels creaky and filled with ghosts. French makes Hugo a genealogist through no accident: his research into the murky waters of others' family trees underscores Toby's sudden doubts about the family he has always loved and trusted.
Though the pacing feels slow in the first act, French has merely taken great care in laying her foundation. Readers who correctly solve the murder ahead of time should keep reading, as she has a few 11th-hour jaw-droppers in store. While Dublin Murder Squad fans may long for the next in the series, The Witch Elm will satisfy cravings for French's blend of atmosphere and introspection. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: In French's first standalone mystery, a skull found in a manor house garden causes a young art dealer to question how well he knows his family and himself.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Great Bookshop Expectations

"As I was loitering along the High Street, looking in disconsolately at the shop windows, and thinking what I would buy if I were a gentleman, who should come out of the bookshop but Mr. Wopsle." --Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Last week I considered the mystery of why so few experienced booksellers had applied for an extraordinary tropical resort bookselling gig. Then I saw Isabel Coixet's film adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald's novel The Bookshop, which sparked further thoughts about the whole "I've always dreamed of opening a bookstore" fantasy.

"The Bookshop is an example of what is called 'a hard sell,' " David Nicholls wrote in his introduction to the 2015 reprint edition of Fitzgerald's novel. "It could make a fine film, but a faithful adaption would have to take on board the author's refusal to provide easy or comforting answers.... Penelope Fitzgerald defies those clichés with glee, and this is precisely what makes her a great novelist. Expectations are constantly denied, explanations withheld."

Expectations, great and otherwise, "are constantly denied." The Bookshop is a bookseller fantasy beatdown. I should have remembered that when I suggested about a year ago that Coixet's upcoming film might eventually "become a viable, 21st-century movie allusion alternative" to that perennial media darling You've Got Mail, which is referenced in 80% of bookstore news coverage. It probably won't, but that's no fault of the excellent film, which takes some liberties with the novel--especially the ending--that I don't begrudge at all.

No book was harmed in the making of this movie. As Neil Gaiman tweeted recently in response to a fan's concerns regarding the upcoming Good Omens adaptation: "The book is the book. The people in your head are your people."

Great bookshop expectations pop up everywhere I look lately. Dutchman Ceisjan Van Heerden just won a Welsh bookshop in a raffle. The Guardian reported that Paul Morris, who opened Bookends in Cardigan four years ago, "wanted to give someone else the chance to realize their dream of running a bookshop. Over the last three months, anyone who spent more than £20 (about $25) was eligible to be entered into a raffle to win it."

Expressing shock at the news, Van Heerden said: "I love books and read a lot and just happened to be in the shop when a TV crew was making a film about Paul's decision to raffle it off and I bought a ticket." He officially takes over Bookends November 5 and is planning to run it with an online friend from Iceland that he's never met but who's moving to west Wales. "It might sound strange, but we are sure we can make it work. It is just an amazing opportunity," Van Heerden added.

What could go wrong? I'm working on that screenplay now. And yet, and yet... the tiny bookshop that could fantasy is not always doomed by delusionally great expectations. Otherwise the dream could not sustain itself.

Consider Volume, which was recently named New Zealand Bookshop of the Year after only 20 months in business. In an op-ed for the Nelson Mail, Ro Cambridge wrote that the Nelson shop is "located on a street with little foot-traffic, and virtually no car parking. It's got hardly any room either, barely any history and does no advertising. On the main street, only a short walk away, there are three other shops selling books.... Volume is small but mighty, and its diminutive size hasn't held it back from taking some giant strides."

Volume is run by co-owners Stella Chrysostomou and Thomas Koed, "a tag-team of only two" who "are paddling furiously below the placid surface of their little bookshop, but there's no evidence of that when you drop in to browse. The shop always feels tranquil and quietly welcoming," Cambridge observed. "Stella and Thomas always have time to talk. You feel truly met, just as you are, and welcomed via the world of books, into dialogue, ideas, understandings, connection. Although there's no dumbing down, there's no condescension either. They built it, and just like the movie, we came."

The Field of Dreams reference is a refreshing alternative to the You've Got Mail analogy. Volume's owners have succeeded "because in part, they made us fall in love with them and their enterprise. We fell in love with them because of their chutzpah, their brains, their style and their deep interest in books and people. We fell in love with their enterprise because it says something about the power of a community of interest, the triumph of small over big, the personal and individual over the impersonality of the mass-marketed. Though we hardly knew that's what we longed for, we fell in love with it when it appeared."

Field of Dreams, she added, "is a strange mix of the utterly prosaic and real, and the utterly magical and mysterious, and yet it works. So does Volume. That magical experience of finding something you never thought possible is possible at Volume. By combining realistic business practices, with their own brand of magic, Stella and Thomas have created something highly unlikely: a tiny but successful bookshop on small one-way street, in a small town, in a small country, 1,000s of miles from anywhere. They built it. And we have come."

Bookshop of Dreams, anyone?

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

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