Shelf Awareness for Thursday, February 7, 2019


Red Lightning Books: A Grip of Time: When Prison Is Your Life by Lauren Kessler

Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Soho Crime: The Satapur Moonstone (A Perveen Mistry Novel) by Sujata Massey

Little Brown and Company: The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers: The Animal's Companion: People & Their Pets, a 26,000-Year Love Story by Jacky Colliss Harvey

St. Martin's Press: Under Currents by Nora Roberts

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Unicorn Bowling: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure (#9) by Dana Simpson

Workman Publishing: The Brisket Chronicles: How to Barbecue, Braise, Smoke, and Cure the World's Most Epic Cut of Meat by Steven Raichlen

Quotation of the Day

'State of the Bookstore Address'

"Friends, readers, Washingtonians, lend me your ears. I come not to praise Amazon, but to bury it.

"In the year of our Lord, 2018, we faced challenges great and small -- friends and allies of ours faded away (R.I.P. Riverby Books), and our mortal enemy announced plans to build a new base just across the river in Crystal City.... And yet, as I stand here today, the state of our bookstore has never been stronger....

"But I will tell you this, readers: we will not go gentle into that good night. We will rage against the dying of the light! When Amazon's drones hover above this fair city, we will climb to the rooftops, slingshots in hand! We will marshal an army of loyal readers against the homogenization of our neighborhoods by the bourgeois banality of developers! And finally, in 2019, we call upon all independent bookstores in D.C. to unite under the banner of D.C. statehood!"

--From the "State of the Bookstore Address" by Capitol Hill Books, Washington, D.C., which tweeted on Tuesday: "Everybody's talking about the #SOTU, but savvy journalists know the real story is the #SOTB address."

Amulet Books: Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants (The Questioneers #2) by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by David Roberts


News

Indigo 3rd Quarter: Sales Dip 1.7%

Revenue at Indigo Books & Music in the third quarter ended December 29 fell 1.7%, to C$426 million (about US$321.7 million) and net earnings were C$21.5 million (US$16.2 million), compared to net earnings of C$42.6 (US$32.2 million) in the same period a year earlier. Total comparable sales were flat.

The company attributed the drop in revenue to "the residual impact of delayed renovations" and the Canada Post strike, which significantly affected online sales. In addition, "a one-time non-cash gift card breakage revenue adjustment of $4.4 million [US$3.3 million] in the prior period also contributed to the lower reported revenue."

The drop in profits was affected as well by "investments in strategic initiatives, including the expansion of the company's distribution facilities, as well as minimum wage increases across Canada."

CEO Heather Reisman commented: "Our third quarter financial performance was challenging. Given the factors which impacted the company, we were satisfied to sustain sales essentially on par with last year."

Noting the opening of its first store in the U.S.--in the Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey in October--Indigo said that "early indicators are showing that the concept is resonating well with customers." In a conference call with analysts, Reisman reiterated that in the store's first year, Indigo is focusing on operations, "and over the course of the year, [we want to] understand what if anything we might want to adjust before opening more stores... but we have no plans at the moment."

Altogether during the quarter, Indigo opened three stores, completed renovations in four others, bringing the total of newly designed and renovated stores to 24. Two stores were closed.

In the conference call, Reisman elaborated on the effect of the postal strike, calling it a "triple whammy" because customers couldn't easily receive orders they made online from Indigo; the other ways of shipping Indigo found were more expensive; and the company had to clear out inventory that wasn't selling at expected levels because of the disruption to online sales. In addition, some stores being renovated--and temporarily moved--opened later than anticipated, further cutting into sales.

Reisman said, however, that sales are "already starting to come back. It will take a little bit of time, but we remain optimistic about our position in the market. What I will share is we--in moments like this, we look very carefully at our customers. And we can see that the customers who we did dislocate, we can already see that they're starting to return."

The company is taking a break on its extensive renovation program, Reisman said. "We want to absorb a bit of what's happened and make sure that we're getting everything that we want out of what we did."


Sourcebooks Fire: A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson


Iowa Bookstore Owner Buys Bookstore Down the Block

Kate Rattenborg

Kate Rattenborg, owner of the general bookstore Dragonfly Books, Decorah, Iowa, has bought Master's Touch, the Christian book and gift store that is on the same block as Dragonfly, from Shari Brink, who purchased Master's Touch in 2013. 

"It is important to keep our main street retail businesses strong," said Rattenborg. "Master's Touch has a loyal customer base, and I'm appreciative of the opportunity to own and manage this business in addition to Decorah's indie bookstore, Dragonfly Books."

Rattenborg, who founded Dragonfly in 2011 and is president of the Midwest Booksellers Association, added on Facebook: "So... some folks buy cars or go on vacations for their birthdays... this is what I did!"

Brink, who sold the business in order to spend more time with her growing family, said, "I am so excited that Kate is the new owner. The retail knowledge and experience that she brings to Master's Touch is a true gift, and I look forward to the great things she will do, not only for Master's Touch, but for downtown Decorah as a whole.... It has been a great experience owning Master's Touch and being part of downtown Decorah for the past five plus years. I am so thankful for great employees and all the wonderful customers who made this possible. Support from family and friends has been an incredible blessing as well. Thank you to all who were part of this journey with me."

Rattenborg plans to make some renovations at Master's Touch and will retain two longtime employees and cross-train her staff from Dragonfly Books. "I will be relying on the expertise of our longtime employees to help me absorb the differences in running the two separate, yet related, businesses," she said. "I will be splitting my time between the two stores, and I look forward to meeting new customers, and continuing the mission of Master's Touch.... My staff and I want to provide a safe and comfortable spot for the community."

Rattenborg worked for 20 years as a college/university librarian in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Minneapolis before moving back to her hometown of Decorah with her daughters after the unexpected death of her husband. She has served on many local boards, including five years on the Chamber of Commerce board. She reported that in the past few days, "many, many folks have stopped by to say thank you for purchasing the business and keeping it open." She noted that Decorah, in the Driftless Area of northeastern Iowa, has a strong shop local community and robust tourism.


Freeform: The Everlasting Rose (Belles #2) by Dhonielle Clayton


ABA Board Candidates Include Cohen, Graham

The board of the American Booksellers Association has approved the nominating committee's recommendations of four candidates for the board in this year's election, Bookselling This Week reported. The candidates are:

Jenny Cohen of Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, Ore.
Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo.
Chris Morrow of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Bradley Graham of Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Cohen has not previously served on the ABA board. Kleindienst and Morrow are coming to the end of their first three-year terms on the board and are eligible for a second three-year term. Graham was serving the unexpired period of what would have been ABA president Robert Sindelar's term as a board member and is now eligible for a full term. All four are standing for election to three-year terms (2019–2022).

The board also selected current ABA v-p Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., for a two-year term as ABA president; and Graham of Politics and Prose to serve as ABA v-p/secretary. Their selection must be ratified by members.

Leaving the board are current president Sindelar of Third Place Books, with three locations in the Seattle area; and Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, R.I. Sindelar is coming to the end of his two-year term as president, and Philbrick is completing her second three-year term.

Election ballots, which include space for write-in candidates, will be sent to ABA members via e-mail in early April and must be returned by April 30. The ABA annual membership meeting will be held on May 30 during BookExpo.

Under ABA bylaws, any bookstore member may submit petitions to have the names of additional candidates for board officers and/or directors added to the ballot. For more information on how to do this, click here.


University of Minnesota Press: Chronicles of Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik


Wi14: Maximizing Pre-Orders

A Winter Institute 2019 panel on maximizing pre-order sales focused on the reasons the American Booksellers Association created a task force and pilot program to help indies garner more pre-order sales and where the campaign stands now, as well as best practices for pre-orders.

Robert Sindelar of Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash., and president of the ABA recalled hearing from publishers that some of the biggest books in indie stores have "a tremendous sales life" before publication, but that indies accounted for "zero percent" of pre-order sales, which in recent years have usually gone to Amazon. Publishers told him, he said, "You're doing a disservice by not pursuing pre-order sales more aggressively." That was the impetus for the ABA's program.

Noting that social media has contributed greatly to the phenomenon, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, the ABA's senior program officer, said that these days, "the life of a book starts before the book is on sale. It starts the minute the author tweets about it or it starts when the publisher announces it," she said. "It doesn't start when it lands in your store," as happened in the past.

According to publishers, Dallanegra-Sanger said, pre-orders can account for anywhere from 3% to 30% of the total sales of a frontlist title. And some of the titles that have 30% of their overall sales as pre-orders are, she continued, "the books that indies really excel in"--literary titles, titles with a big fan base, titles that aren't carried by every mass merchant. All of which makes it "even more important that we get into the pre-order game."

The ABA has been working closely with publishers and others on pre-orders. Among areas of focus:

* Making sure book metadata and jackets are available in a timely fashion for use on IndieCommerce sites. More and more publishers have been sending information about cover reveals and drop-ins, all of which is available via a book alert at bookweb.org. This has been "a game changer," Dallanegra-Sanger said.

* The ABA is trying to figure out how to report pre-orders, working with NPD. (Sales should be reported on the official on-sale date, not earlier, even when money is collected in advance.)

More and more stores are making an effort to get pre-order sales, led by the 22-store task force that last year focused on seven titles. (See Shelf Awareness's article about it here.) As a result, more indie customers are turning to indies for pre-orders instead of going to Amazon for them.

Among observations and recommendations concerning pre-orders:

  • Pre-orders focused on a few titles usually boost pre-orders for other titles. Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass., has done pre-orders for years and found that after doing a few, "it raised pre-orders for all books," Dallanegra-Sanger said.
  • Added-value helps distinguish indie pre-orders from what's typical at Amazon. Examples include having signed copies (emphasizing that they're available while supplies last) or offering tote bags, pins or other exclusive items.
  • The ABA has a pre-order calendar on bookweb.org that focuses on big titles and titles for which publishers are offering signed editions or something of added value.
  • Booksellers should use publishers' digital assets for pre-order titles, in part because this will increase the likelihood that customers doing Google searches will find indies' offerings. A custom product page makes it even more likely that a bookstore will rank high in a Google search.
  • Booksellers should list titles available for pre-order on the same web page, so that a customer looking for one finds others.
  • Large cover images helped BookPeople, Austin, Tex., obtain excellent conversion rates.
  • Booksellers should promote a variety of titles for pre-orders, especially books they love and that matter to their stores, and do so as soon as they hear about them, so that customers associate the stores with upcoming titles--and become more likely to pre-order from the indie.
  • In-store marketing is "as important and sometimes more important than online efforts" for pre-orders, Dallanegra-Sanger said. This includes everything from signs--including ones like the upcoming lists that video rental stores featured--shelf talkers, and just plain talking up upcoming titles. --John Mutter

Obituary Note: Carol Emshwiller

Author Carol Emshwiller, whom Ursula Le Guin once called "a major fabulist, a marvelous magical realist, one of the strongest, most complex, most consistently feminist voices in fiction," died February 2. She was 97.

Science Fiction Writers Association president Cat Rambo called Emshwiller "one of the greats of short story writing, right up there with Grace Paley, James Tiptree Jr., Ursula K. Le Guin, and R.A. Lafferty, and she pushed its edges in order to do amazing, delightful, and illuminating things–-just as she did with her longer work. As a short story lover, I am gutted by this loss to the writing community and plan to spend part of today re-reading Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories, with its beautifully incisive and unflinching stories."

Emshwiller's short fiction has been collected in the two-volume series, The Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller. Her 1991 collection, The Start of the End of It All and Other Stories, won the World Fantasy Award, and in 2005, the World Fantasy Con presented her with a lifetime achievement award. She was nominated for the Nebula Award four times, winning in the short story category twice--in 2003 for her story "Creature" and in 2006 for "I Live with You." Her novels include Carmen Dog, Mister Boots, The Secret City, and the Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Mount.

In a tribute, Tachyon Publications said, "All of us at Tachyon are saddened by the news of the influential Carol Emshwiller's death.... [She] played a prominent role in science fiction's new-wave movement."

Cory Doctorow wrote: "Emshwiller has been publishing since 1955, and while she is best known for her fantasy and science fiction, my favorite work of hers is the superb and moving western Ledoyt, published in 1995.... I never met Carol Emshwiller, but her work stayed with me for decades, and I'm glad she lived such a long and productive life."  


Notes

Image of the Day: Land at Half Price Books

Half Price Books kicked off its 2019 HPB Book Club with an event featuring author Stephanie Land on Thursday, January 31 at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Tex. Land discussed her book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive (Hachette), the February/March HPB Book Club pick, before signing copies for more than 80 attendees. A portion of the proceeds from this ticketed event benefited CitySquare, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship.


'Independent Bookstores' for $2,000, Alex

What are the Strand bookstore in New York City; Square Books in Oxford, Miss.; City Lights in San Francisco; the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge, Mass.; and Powell's in Portland, Ore.?

All five booksellers were clues under the "Independent Bookstores" category on last night's episode of Jeopardy (beginning around the 9:35 mark).

"Did you catch us on Jeopardy! today?" Square Books posted on Facebook. "We were a clue in the INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES category! Many thanks to Jeopardy for including us. To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives: a photo of our general manager Lyn Roberts with Alex Trebek at an independent booksellers' conference."


Cool Idea of the Day: Trident's Silent Book Club

Earlier this week Trident Booksellers & Cafe in Boston, Mass., held its fifth "Silent Book Club," a monthly event during which customers sit down for an hour of silent reading time. The two-hour event begins with a 30-minute window for customers to socialize and order food and drink, before settling down for an hour of reading. After that, there is another half-hour window for more socializing and wrap-up.

"It's not a book club, just a space for people to commit to reading," explained store manager Courtney Flynn. "I think with all the distractions technology gives us, people really enjoy coming to a place where the only expectation is to pick up a book."

Trident's Silent Book Club is part of a network of Silent Book Club meetups in more than 50 cities around the world. Bookseller Manasa Davuluri is a volunteer host of the Boston chapter. No specific books are assigned; customers are encouraged to simply bring whatever they are currently reading. Attendance costs $5, which serves as a voucher toward any food or drink that customers may order.


Personnel Changes at APA Publishing's Magination Press

Jennifer Murphy has joined the American Psychological Association's Magination Press children's book imprint, part of APA Publishing, as assistant marketing manager. Most recently she was marketing coordinator at Harper.



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Chris Christie on Real Time with Bill Maher

Tomorrow:
HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Chris Christie, author Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics (Hachette Books, $28, 9780316421799).


This Weekend on Book TV: Shoshana Zuboff on The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

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, February 9
5:10 p.m. Jon Ward, author of Camelot's End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party (Twelve, $28, 9781455591381), at East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Monday at 2:15 a.m.)

7:40 p.m. Joshua S. Goldstein, co-author of A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow (PublicAffairs, $26, 9781541724105), at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.

8:40 p.m. Amy Zegart and Herb Lin, authors ofBytes, Bombs, and Spies: The Strategic Dimensions of Offensive Cyber Operations (Brookings Institution Press, $45.99, 9780815735472). (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m.)

10 p.m. Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (PublicAffairs, $38, 9781610395694). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Richard Gergel, author of Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring (Sarah Crichton, $27, 9780374107895).

Sunday, February 10
6 p.m. The National African American Read-in, an event that promotes literacy during Black History Month, holds a breakfast to recognize the writing of African American authors.

7:30 p.m. Van Jackson, author of On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War (Cambridge University Press, $24.95, 9781108473484).

10 p.m. Shomari Wills, author of Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires (Amistad, $26.99, 9780062437594), at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y.

11 p.m. DaMaris Hill, author of A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland (Bloomsbury, $25, 9781635572612), at Politics & Prose.


Books & Authors

Awards: Wellcome Book Longlist; Friedrich Ulfers Winner

A longlist has been announced for the £30,000 (about $38,850) Wellcome Book Prize, which honors a new work of fiction or nonfiction published in the U.K. with "a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness." A shortlist will be revealed on March 19, with the winner named May 1. The complete longlist can be found here.

---

Translator Susan Bernofsky is receiving this year's Friedrich Ulfers Prize, which is awarded by Deutsches Haus at NYU, is endowed with a $5,000 grant and honors a publisher, writer, critic, translator, or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the U.S. The prize will be presented at the opening ceremony of the 10th annual Festival Neue Literatur on March 28.

Bernofsky directs the program Literary Translation at Columbia in the MFA Writing Program at the Columbia University School of the Arts and is the winner of the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize, the Ungar Award for Literary Translation, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.

Bernofsky commented: "The rich body of literature written in the German-speaking countries has been dear to my heart right from the beginning, ever since Franz Kafka and the brothers Grimm first rocked my adolescent world. And getting to translate some of these gorgeous stories I love and write them in English has been just the biggest thrill."

Writer Rivka Galchen, who will present Bernofsky with the prize, said, "Susan Bernofsky's translations are themselves an extraordinary work of art."


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, February 12:

Leading Men: A Novel by Christopher Castellani (Viking, $27, 9780525559054) tells the story of Tennessee Williams and longtime partner Frank Merlo.

Finding Dorothy: A Novel by Elizabeth Letts (Ballantine, $28, 9780525622109) is the story of the making of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of L. Frank Baum's wife.

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525520610) follows a family on a road trip to a southwest in the midst of an immigration crisis.

Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen (Harper, $27.99, 9780062882943) explores the Parkland shooting and its activist aftermath, from the author of Columbine.

Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson (Picador, $29, 9781250120236) reveals the longest case of wrongful imprisonment in U.S. history.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future by Pete Buttigieg (Liveright, $27.95, 9781631494369) is a memoir by the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry by Randolph M. Nesse (Dutton, $28, 9781101985663) applies natural selection to mental illness.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (Dial, $17.99, 9780525553236) is a middle grade, contemporary epistolary novel about two 12-year-olds whose fathers are getting married.

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (Roaring Brook, $18.99, 9781626723641) is the graphic novelist's debut young adult novel.

Movie:
Donnybrook, based on the novel by Frank Bill, opens February 15. Two men compete in a bare-knuckle fight with a $100,000 prize.


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: An Indies Introduce Title
The Far Field: A Novel by Madhuri Vijay (Grove Press, $27, 9780802128409). "Few seasoned novelists--let alone a first-time novelist like Madhuri Vijay--are able to construct scene after scene with compelling interior drama, tension, and forward momentum, but you'll never want to stop reading as Vijay skillfully combines a personal journey and family mystery with a political examination of the Kashmiri-Indian troubles. Shalini, the narrator of this extraordinary work, has a mother who immediately belongs on any shortlist of literature's great characters. If I read a better novel in 2019, then 2019 will become my favorite year of the 21st century." --Brian Lampkin, Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, N.C.

Hardcover
Golden State: A Novel by Ben Winters (Mulholland Books, $28, 9780316505413). "Golden State is a gripping and brainy page-turner. Winters asks his readers to imagine California as a sovereign (and surveillance) state in which intentionally lying is the greatest federal offense. The 'Byzantine business of reality maintenance' is carried out by a team of federal agents, including our hero, Laszlo Ratesic. Golden State is a mystery in both form and content. In addition to the seemingly simple incident Laszlo investigates at the start of the novel, there's the bigger question of what a novel really is, or means, or can do in the 'good, golden, safe' world its readers are transported to. Winters is especially good at keeping his readers off-balance. Not even his biggest fans will see some of the twists and turns he's built into this, his best book yet." --John Francisconi, Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn.

Paperback
The Afterlives: A Novel by Thomas Pierce (Riverhead Books, $16, 9780399573002). "In The Afterlives, Thomas Pierce follows a man's quest for what comes after death. The story skillfully intersects religion, technology, philosophy, humor, love, and fear, but love and fear are what really got to me. The novel celebrates the love we're born into with our family and the love we find, but behind that is the fear of its loss. The novel doesn't flinch. Pierce's characters are so natural and so funny that at times it felt like I was reading Douglas Coupland or Elan Mastai. The Afterlives didn't feel bleak or hopeless or preachy--it was sincere and hopeful." --Myles Mickle, Village Square Booksellers, Bellows Falls, Vt.

For Ages 4 to 8
Chicken Talk by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Katherine Tegen, $17.99, 9780062398642). "The term 'chicken scratch' gets a whole new meaning in this delightful barnyard tale from award-winning author-illustrator team Patricia MacLachlan and Jarrett J. Krosoczka." --Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, N.C.

For Ages 9 to 12
Counting to Perfect by Suzanne LaFleur (Wendy Lamb, $16.99, 9781524771799). "Counting to Perfect is a beautiful story of sisters, one that takes a gentle look at teenage pregnancy without much drama and in what seems like a very real way." --Kira Wizner, Merritt Bookstore & Toystore, Millbrook, N.Y.

For Teen Readers
Let's Go Swimming on Doomsday by Natalie C. Anderson (Putnam, $18.99, 9780399547614). "This is a book you won't want to put down and you'll never forget. Seeing the world through Abdi's eyes might change the way you see refugees, child soldiers, the U.S. government, and so much more. Ethical dilemmas, heart-wrenching situations, and moments of unbelievable courage abound. Although the topics are difficult, it reads easily--a page-turner with heart and a stunning back-and-forth structure. Make sure you make time for this." --Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Review: A Woman Is No Man

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (Harper, $26.99 hardcover, 352p., 9780062699763, March 5, 2019)

In this heartrending debut novel that will likely be a book club favorite, Palestinian American writer Etaf Rum explores the cloistered yet perilous lives of the women in a Palestinian immigrant family in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 1990, 17-year-old Isra leaves Palestine for Brooklyn with Adam, the husband her parents chose for her. After spending most of her life in her family's kitchen, the sight of New York astonishes Isra. Adam and his overbearing mother, Fareeda, expect her to exemplify the dutiful Arab wife, keeping to the house to cook, clean and raise sons. Meek Isra silently chafes against their expectations while her teenage sister-in-law, Sarah, rebels against Fareeda's attempts to marry her off. Isra bears only daughters, further ratcheting up the household tension. Even when Adam turns physically abusive, Isra feels unable to stand up for herself in a world that "pressed shame into a woman like a pillow into her face."

Eighteen years later, Isra and Adam are dead. Their eldest daughter, Deya, longs to go to college, but Fareeda insists she marry. In the older woman's mind, Deya must keep to the culture and accept that men, not women, have choices. Deya longs to please her family, until she reads an unfinished letter from Isra that makes her question everything she believed about her mother. It sets her on a journey to uncover the past and decide her own future.

In an open letter to readers, Rum has said that while writing this story, she fought her own apprehension about breaking the code of silence that surrounds the Palestinian immigrant community, as well as her fear of adding to stereotypes against it. Luckily for readers, she chose authenticity over caution. The result is a raw, sympathetic look into a world where parents order girls in their teens to marry against their will, a woman who helps her daughter-in-law with a newborn is considered too soft-hearted, and spousal rape and abuse are blamed on the victims who are shamed into silence.

However, the picture is not without hope or light. Isra finds solace in reading and her friendship with strong-willed Sarah. Readers will root for Deya as she struggles between pleasing her family and laying claim to her own future. Rum also paints no villains. Fareeda believes enforcing cultural strictures with Isra, Sarah and Deya will keep them safe, and the abusive male characters are used to show that the system leaves men damaged and unhappy, too. Crafted with thoughtfulness and empathy, A Woman Is No Man celebrates resilience and the courage required to speak out against an unjust way of life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: Etaf Rum's debut novel shows the impact of female subservience on three generations of Palestinian American women.


The Bestsellers

Top Book Club Picks in January

The following were the most popular book club books during January based on votes from book club readers in more than 48,000 book clubs registered at Bookmovement.com:

1. The Girls at 17 Swann Street: A Novel by Yara Zgheib (St. Martin's Press)
2. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (Random House)
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown)
4. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Putnam)
5. Before We Were Yours: A Novel by Lisa Wingate (Ballantine)
6. The Alice Network: A Novel by Kate Quinn (Morrow Paperbacks)
7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press)
8. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Flatiron Books)
9. An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books)
10. The Woman in the Window: A Novel by A.J. Finn (Morrow)

Rising Star: The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster)


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