Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 26, 2019

Little Brown and Company: Wolf at the Table by Adam Rapp

Tor Nightfire: Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes

Severn River Publishing: Covert Action (Command and Control #5) by J.R. Olson and David Bruns

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Quotation of the Day

'On the Verge of Another Big Change in Bookselling'

"Right now, I feel we're on the verge of another big change in bookselling. We have to figure out--with our industry partners--how to make bookstores of all types sustainable, and how to improve the quality of life as a bookseller."

--ABA president Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., in the latest installment of Bookselling This Week's Face Out series

University of California Press: The Accidental Ecosystem: People and Wildlife in American Cities by Peter S. Alagona


Amazon 2nd Quarter: Sales Rise; Costs Limit Profit Gain


In the second quarter ended June 30, net sales at Amazon rose 19.9%, to $63.4 billion while net income rose 3.6%, to $2.6 billion. Although revenue was above analysts' expectations, Amazon's net income of $5.22 per share was below analysts' prediction of $5.56 per share. As a result, in after-market trading Amazon stock slipped nearly 1%, to $1,957.00 a share.

The Wall Street Journal said that Amazon's disappointing earnings results came from "higher shipping costs, slowing growth from its cloud-computing business and a steeper loss in its overseas retail business." The higher shipping costs came from trying to make one-day shipping standard for Prime customers.

MarketWatch noted, too, that the company's spending in a variety of areas has risen significantly: "Amazon reported that it spent $9.27 billion in the quarter on fulfillment, up nearly 17% from a year ago; $4.29 billion on marketing, up 48%; and $9.07 billion on technology and content, including rights for the Amazon Prime streaming service, up 25%. Overall operating expenses were $36.34 billion, up 18.6%."

In addition, the AWS cloud division had operating income of $2.1 billion on sales on sales of $8.4 billion, but that revenue was $100 million less than analysts' expectations.

Ed Schlichenmayer Named NACS CEO

Ed Schlichenmayer

Ed Schlichenmayer will succeed Robert Walton as chief executive officer of the National Association of College Stores, the NACS Board announced this week

Schlichenmayer, formerly the association's chief operating officer, will take over officially in the next few weeks. Walton, who has been CEO of NACS since 2016, has resigned but will remain with the association in an advisory role until the end of 2019 in order to work on a few ongoing initiatives.

"It's been an honor to serve as NACS' CEO," said Walton. "However, now is the right time for a leadership change, and Ed is the right person to guide NACS as it looks to the future. I look forward to working with Ed and the Board during the transition period as we continue to serve and deliver value for our members."

In addition to being the association's COO, Schlichenmayer has held several senior-level positions at NACS. Prior to that, he managed college stores and other auxiliary operations in higher education.

"I am humbled and privileged to be the next CEO of NACS, and I appreciate the confidence that the Board of Trustees have placed in me," said Schlichenmayer. "This is a critical time for NACS, and I look forward to working with our board, professional staff, members and vendors to support the growth and development of the independent campus store."

Melbourne City of Lit Booksellers in Residence Named

Melbourne City of Literature has named the four Victorian booksellers who will participate in its Booksellers in Residence program, Books + Publishing reported. They will spend a week in a bookshop in another City of Literature "to observe, to participate and to exchange ideas." Applicants were assessed by an independent selection committee of representatives from sister Cities of Literature. Recipients receive a return flight and $2,000 toward travel expenses, with the trips to take place by December 2020. This year's booksellers are:

Ellen Cregan (Readings) to Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.
Heather Dyer (Fairfield Books) to the Book Hive in Norwich, England
Megan O'Brien (Brunswick Bound) to Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh, Scotland
Kate O'Donnell (the Younger Sun) to the Bookcase in Nottingham, England.

Melbourne City of Literature director David Ryding said "it was when walking around a sister City of Literature bookshop (Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa) that made me ask, 'how can we connect our bookshops of excellence across the Cities of Literature?' It seems to me there aren't really any obvious connection methods for individual bookshops internationally and I thought booksellers would enjoy experiencing a bookshop overseas. I believe each country's bookshops have things they do every day which, when reflected on by a visitor, are remarkable, and I thought a process like this would let our selected booksellers discover the everyday in another country, exchange ideas and hopefully create connections between bookstores."

Barnes & Noble Opens New Concept Store in Woodbury, Minn.

Barnes & Noble has opened a new, smaller concept store in Woodbury, Minn., that is around 10,000 square feet smaller than one of its usual stores, the StarTribune reported.

The store, which opened officially on Wednesday, has more space for children's and young adult books and less space for music. The bookstore is located in Woodbury's CityPlace development and has a 50-seat cafe.

The Woodbury B&N also features more gathering space; a puzzle and board games section; and displays showcasing staff recommendations and books by local authors. The larger gift section has more room for things like journals and address books.

While the music section is limited compared to the average B&N, there is an aisle dedicated to vinyl music. The reduction in the music department's size is part of B&N's recent decision to phase out music and movies in stores due to declining sales.

Elliott Management, the hedge fund that also owns British bookstore chain Waterstones, is in the process of purchasing B&N for $683 million. When the deal closes in August, James Daunt will become CEO of B&N and Waterstones.

Obituary Note: Colin A. Palmer

Colin A. Palmer, "a historian who broadened the understanding of the African diaspora, showing that the American slave trade was only one part of a phenomenon that spanned centuries and influenced cultures worldwide," died June 20, the New York Times reported. He was 75.

In 1976, Palmer published his first book, Slaves of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, 1570-1650, chronicling a period "when the colonies that would become the U.S. were still in their formative stages. The book set him on a career-long path," the Times noted.

"Palmer definitely brought about a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the African diaspora, one that extended well beyond African-American history or the history of the slave trade," said James H. Sweet, who as a graduate student worked with Palmer and is now Vilas-Jartz distinguished professor of history at the University of Wisconsin.

Sweet added: "He argued that the millions of African-descended peoples were united by a past based significantly on the struggles against racial oppression, and despite their cultural and political variations, diaspora peoples faced broadly similar historical challenges in realizing themselves."

Palmer's books include Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas; The First Passage: Blacks in the Americas 1502-1617; Inward Yearnings: Jamaica's Journey to Nationhood; and Freedom's Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica.

Though the history he wrote about was full of oppression, Palmer saw achievement and resilience in that history as well, the Times noted, adding that in a 2010 talk he said, "We should not romanticize it because people's life chances were circumscribed. They are still being circumscribed. But there's a lot to celebrate. There's a lot to draw strength from."


Image of the Day: Tiant Takes the Mound at Gibson's Bookstore

Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, N.H., hosted legendary Red Sox (and Indians, and Yankees) pitcher Luis Tiant (seated, center), whose memoir is Son of Havana: A Baseball Journey from Cuba to the Big Leagues and Back (Diversion Books). Tiant is surrounded by members of the Gibson's team: (l.-r.) bookseller Samantha White, owner Michael Herrmann, bookseller John LeDonne, co-author Saul Wisnia, publicist Lissa Warren, and events coordinator Elisabeth Jewell. (photo: Jason Alpert-Wisnia) 

Seattle Bookseller Susan Scott Retires

Susan Scott

Secret Garden Books, Seattle, Wash., recently celebrated the retirement of shop manager Susan Scott after a 40-year career in bookselling. Although she worked in retail in college and spent several years as an advertising copywriter in New York City and later Seattle, her long-term future in bookselling was set with her first job, shelving books at the Seattle Public Library in 1967. She began her bookselling career at Books & Co. in New York City in 1980, continued upon her return to Seattle at Queen Anne Avenue Books, working with its original owners back in the '90s, and joined Secret Garden in 1996.

"Susan wanted her last Saturday to be a big (sales) one for the shop, so we invited dozens of past and current booksellers, publishers reps, and, of course, customers, most of whom went home with purchases," events manager Suzanne Perry said.

What's in a Name?: Penguin Bookshop

The latest subject of Bookselling This Week's "What's in a Name?" series is Penguin Bookshop, Sewickley, Pa., which first opened in 1929 and is currently under the leadership of its sixth owner, Susan Hans O'Connor, who took over the store in 2014. Although she didn't name the shop, O'Connor does know the story of how Penguin's first owners, Isabelle L. Adams and Eleanor Gilchrist, came up with the moniker when they founded the store 90 years ago.

"Their favorite book was Penguin Island by Anatole France," O'Connor said. "They named the store after that book, and there is no formal connection with the publishing [house] Penguin. We pre-date them, actually, because Penguin was founded in 1935."

She noted, however, her own informal connection from her time working at Penguin Books in New York City: "It was just serendipity that I ended up moving to a town where there was a store called the Penguin Bookshop."

Road Trip: 'Tokyo's Literary Hotspots'

"Knowing a quiet corner of the city where you can browse the shelves for your next literary fix can mean the world in this fast-paced age," Metropolis Japan noted in featuring Tokyo's Literary Hotspots, "a list of our favorite English language bookstores in Tokyo. Also included are two events bringing book-lovers of the Big Mikan together in beautiful, sometimes wordy, harmony."

Media and Movies

TV: The Right Stuff; The Old Man

"As America basks in the 50th anniversary celebration of the first moon landing," National Geographic has released the first trailer for its upcoming series The Right Stuff, "which uses Tom Wolfe's book as its starting point," Deadline reported. The project is from Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way and Warner Horizon Scripted Television.

Patrick J. Adams stars as John Glenn and Jake McDorman as Alan Shepard. The cast also includes Colin O'Donoghue, Eric Ladin, Patrick Fischler, Nora Zehetner, Eloise Mumford, Shannon Lucio and Josh Cooke.

"Subsequent seasons of The Right Stuff will carry through to the epochal Apollo Space Program, where humankind saw one of its greatest achievements--man setting foot on the moon--and missions beyond," Deadline wrote.


Jeff Bridges will play a retired CIA officer in the FX series The Old Man, based on the novel by Thomas Perry. Deadline reported that the deal marks the actor's first return to series TV since he appeared with his father on Sea Hunt and The Lloyd Bridges Show in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The project is written by Black Sails co-creators Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine.

The Old Man is exec produced by Warren Littlefield (Fargo, The Handmaid's Tale) Bridges, Steinberg, Levine, Dan Shotz and David Schiff and produced by Fox 21 Television Studios in association with the Littlefield Company. Production of the pilot episode begins this fall.

"Jeff Bridges is an iconic, extraordinary actor and to have him as the star of this series is an incredible moment for FX," said Nick Grad, president, original programming, FX Entertainment. "Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine have delivered an amazing pilot script and Jeff is perfect for the role of Dan Chase."

Steinberg added: "To call this a project a dream opportunity for us is almost certainly a gross understatement."

Books & Authors

Awards: Dead Good Reader Winners

Winners were announced for the 2019 Dead Good Reader Awards during the recent Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. This year's winning titles are:

Best Amateur Detective: The Suspect by Fiona Barton
Most Gripping Courtroom Drama: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
Best Revenge Thriller: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
Book You Can't Put Down: Skin Deep by Liz Nugent
Most Elusive Villain: Last of the Magpies by Mark Edwards
Most Recommended Book: The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

Reading with... J. Michael Straczynski

photo: Peter Konerko

J. Michael Straczynski has written hundreds of hours of television shows; comic books for Marvel and DC that have sold more than 13 million copies; and screenplays of movies that have grossed over a billion dollars. Becoming Superman is his first memoir (Harper Voyager, July 23, 2019).

On your nightstand now:

Rereading A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I believe that an appreciation of poetry is essential for any writer in any field. That economy of language reminds you of the importance of choosing exactly the right word, not the word next to the right one on the shelf. On a conceptual level, I admire Ferlinghetti's writing which comes at you from a right angle with a huge impact, so I reread his work every couple of years to keep my brain flexible.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Mad Scientists Club by Bertrand Brinley. I liked this series because it showed kids who got away with making trouble in a small town, one of the few to actually applaud mischief. But their hearts were in the right places, and they approached everything from a perspective of (well, close to) actual science in their methodology.

Your top five authors:

Norman Corwin was the country's premiere radio dramatists in the '40s and is still considered a writer's writer, inspiring such folks as Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Walter Cronkite, Charles Kuralt and many more to become better writers. I briefly studied under him at SDSU and still can't figure out how he did some of what he did.

Harlan Ellison was an inspirational figure because like me, he came from the streets, he was a scrapper and a troublemaker and didn't have the best grades, but he kept honing his craft and succeeded. I'd been raised to think that writing was an ivory-tower profession, populated by writers from good New England families who wrote while wearing smoking jackets and reclining on macassar fainting couches. Knowing he could make it helped keep me going, and in time we became friends.

Richard Matheson was the quintessential fantasist: his stories and scripts were brilliant in their use of the tropes of fantasy but were also and always grounded in emotion. Whenever I think I'm getting too smart and facile for my own good, I reread his stuff to be reminded of the importance of just writing honestly and from the heart.

Rod Serling was the best of us (along with Paddy Chayefsky) and reading any of his scripts or watching any of his Twilight Zone episodes is like taking a master's class in writing. I have a tendency to over-write, and as much as Serling may be known for long monologues, the construction of those pieces is laser-sharp, not a single wasted word in there anywhere, the result of a clockwork mind clicking along at 10,000 revolutions per second.

Mark Twain was someone I discovered as a young writer, and though some contemporary readers may consider him old-hat, there's an energy and canny intelligence in his work that survives the ages. For construction of narrative, humor and most particularly a way of looking at action in a fresh or unusual way that enlivens the narrative, there's nobody better.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. The first time I tried to read Ulysses was when a friend in college bet me 20 bucks I couldn't finish it. I lost that bet. I've probably tried half a dozen times over the long years to finish the triple-damned thing, but I just can't get there, so I lie. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Land of Laughs, Jonathan Carroll. That Carroll's name is not more widely known is unfortunate because he is a superb craftsman and a surrealist thinker and a damned fine writer. Land of Laughs was the first book of his I read and remains one of the best in his canon. It's creepy and smart and populated with rich, interesting characters and definitely needs to be more widely read.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Literally anything by H.P. Lovecraft because the covers were so garish and scary and otherworldly.

Book you hid from your parents:

Literally anything by H.P. Lovecraft because the covers were so garish and scary and other-worldly.

Book that changed your life:

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (collection) Harlan Ellison. As someone who was largely self-educated as a kid, my sense of what constituted science fiction came from the ranks of classic SF: Ray Bradbury, E.E. "Doc" Smith, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov--stories that wrote from the technology out to the characters. I Have No Mouth was one of the breakthrough books of the New Wave of SF and turned that motif absolutely upside down. It was like nothing I'd ever read before, and it spun my head around 180 degrees both as a writer and a fan of the genre.

Favorite line from a book:

"For the love of God, Montresor!" --from "The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allan Poe. I can't even tell you why. It just so perfectly encapsulates the dilemma faced by the character, and embodies the story's theme of revenge that it sticks with me always.

Five books you'll never part with:

Mark Twain's Speeches because the man knew how to put together a talk that was entertaining and informative and challenging and boy howdy do I need that.

The Oxford English Dictionary (bookshelf edition) because it's endless fun browsing through not just the words themselves but the Indo-European word derivations provided for many of the definitions, tracing back the work through many iterations, each adding new and unexpected shadings of meaning.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, because she was one of the best of us, because her storytelling skills were impeccable and because there are some nights when apparently sleep just isn't a priority for me.

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, William S. Baring-Gould. I'm a big Sherlock fan and love to reread this for the details behind the creation of those stories. I learn something new every time.

The Literature of England, edited by George K. Anderson and William E. Buckler, because I fell in love with classical English literature in college, and this was one of the best texts I ever came across for a generalist view of that period.

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

The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, just to experience that sense of wonder all over again.

Favorite poem:

Ulysses by Tennyson because of what it says about the raw, naked courage required to keep going under the worst of circumstances, and to then go one step forward to reinvent oneself, to push off into new possibilities; that there is hope, even at the end of all things.

Book Review

Review: The Divers' Game

The Divers' Game by Jesse Ball (Ecco, $26.99 hardcover, 240p., 9780062676108, September 10, 2019)

Jesse Ball (Census) has fashioned a modern allegory about the brutality of society in his dark dystopian novel The Divers' Game.

The novel is split into three parts that provide a disturbing picture of what humans are capable of doing to each other. In this imagined world, humans are divided into two groups, quads and pats. The former are refugees who flood into this unnamed first-world country, much to the chagrin of the pats, the existing citizens. The clash between these two groups leads to a series of inhumane laws. Quads are relegated to slums in the outskirts of the cities, where the rule of law hardly exists, and abusive guards, called helmets, reign over them by force. Quads are marked with a brand on their face and their dominant thumbs are removed; this is how they're identified. Pats, living in the supposedly civil areas of the city, carry gas masks and gas canisters at all times. They are trained to use the gas to kill any unwanted quads in their neighborhoods. Laws have been changed so that pats may kill quads as they wish, without cause.

What makes The Divers' Game exceptional is the way Ball navigates this horrific world. It would have been easy to follow dystopian tropes, like setting up the quads for a rebellion. But that's not what Ball has in mind. He studies these two groups of people closely, allowing strange cultural practices to develop where human life is worth little. He's like an anthropologist of his own creation. For instance, the quads have developed a festival of the "Infanta," in which a child born in the right year leads a parade through the slums. The child is given god-like power to judge anyone who approaches her float. She judges guilt and innocence on her own whims, and the immense crowds carry out her will, publicly punishing those she deems worthy of punishment. That the crowds sometimes turn against the Infanta, killing her, shows the lawlessness that has seized control of quad life: dehumanization leads to dehumanization.

Similarly, the title of the novel refers to a game quad children play in two ponds. They dive down to find a tunnel that connects the two ponds, seeing how far they can get and how long they can last underwater. Here, Ball reaches his most allegorical. The children tease and pressure each other, mirroring their society. Diving into the dark becomes a metaphor for the depths of human cruelty on display.

While the first two sections of the novel are relayed by an omniscient narrator describing the society, the last section is narrated by a pat woman in letters she's writing to her husband. The woman expresses regret for killing a quad, in grisly detail, and ponders the nature of society, personhood and death. If the first two parts of the book were observational, the last part is confessional and serves as a kind of conscience to the chaos. The letters grow increasingly profound as the woman makes a decision that will forever alter her husband's life. "What is it to kill a person?" she asks. "Something more than speaking out loud, and something less than being born. Something like knowledge, yet less, a knowledge that leaves you with less."

The Divers' Game is strange and gripping. Ball can be forgiven the sense of fatalism that pervades the work because the world he has created is not unlike our own. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Shelf Talker: This disturbing dystopian novel imagines human differences being taken to violent extremes.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: So Many Books, the Movie

You'd think that it would be hard to sneak a film on reading and bookstores past someone who reads and writes about the world of books every single damn day, but it happens. Exhibit A: until I stumbled upon a recent Open Culture post, I had neither seen nor heard of the short documentary Bookstores: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content, directed by Max Joseph.

So many movies about books, so little time? No, not really. In any case, now that I've watched it a couple of times, I'm glad I found the movie, or it found me. Bookstores is a lot of fun, with just the right blend of entertainment and insight, visual splendor and occasional irritants, to spark conversation. Like a good read.

Created in partnership with social media platform VERO and released to time with World Book Day last April 23, Joseph's visual essay chronicles a two-fold quest: "First, I'm going to search for the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Well, not really the whole world. Mostly just western Europe and South America. And second, I'm going to ask a bunch of incredibly smart people to help me figure out how to read more books because right now my whole content diet is out of whack."

Summing up the genesis of the project, Joseph wrote that bookstores "have always driven me crazy. So much to read and so little time! And now with our lives chock full of content--Netflix, podcasts, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle--when the hell are we supposed to find the time to get through a book? This dilemma has haunted me for awhile. So I decided to make a film about it, hoping to find a way through my bookstore anxiety--a way to re-balance my content diet in order to read more books. Making this film brought me to a place of clarity. I hope it does the same for you."

As he points out in the film, Joseph is specifically referring to bookstores that "sell new books, crisp, unworn, unwrinkled books, books with no past, no stains, no previous owners. But why? Why do they drive me so crazy?" He suspects it has something to do with the cover art, "or the colorful and coordinated patterns of their spines. Bookstores are basically like art galleries, with stories attached.... Another thing that blows my mind about bookstores is how powerful the merchandise is.... And here they all sit before you and I've barely read any of them."

Seeking practical advice on raising his reading game, he consults Wait But Why blogger Tim Urban, Barking Up the Wrong Tree blogger Eric Barker (who puts in an unfortunate--given the general bookstore idolatry theme--Kindle plug), and Howard Berg, "the world's fastest reader"; but finds his true mentor in Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, president Prairie View A&M University in Texas and a comparative literature scholar.

Although he initially hopes Simmons will provide a comprehensive list of titles he should be reading in his limited time on the planet, she quickly sets him straight. "I'm much less convinced than many others that there is a prescriptive list of books that you must read," she says. "I'm more convinced that it is the reading widely that matters more than anything else.... I know a lot of people today like to do things on the fly. You can't read on the fly, thank goodness, right? Because forced meditation is probably a good thing... The busyness does not make our lives meaningful. It is the interior life that makes the greatest difference to us in the end."

Max Joseph

Joseph told Fast Company that at the beginning of the project, he "was looking at books as another form of content that you would just consume. And maybe it is content, but you consume it in a different way. You immerse yourself in it for a long period of time and that immersion puts you in a different mind state. And that's what's important about reading."

In the film, he shares a lesson learned: "Maybe the whole purpose of reading wasn't to learn more, but to get in touch with that deep and quiet part of yourself. Your inner temple, so to speak."

Even Howard Berg, it turns out, knows how to take his foot off the speed reading pedal: "I've learned to shut it off when I want to. Like if I'm relaxing and I'm enjoying something. Let's say you're a Harry Potter fan and you waited 10 months for the next book. Do you want to finish it in three minutes? It's like chugging Dom Perignon or looking at the 'Mona Lisa' on a skateboard."

Joseph agrees: "Well, if the fastest reader likes to slow down when he reads, maybe I should, too."

Like any proper pilgrimage, this path leads to enlightenment: "These bookstores are like temples," Joseph says. "Some of them have even been churches. A place to get in touch with your higher self and nourish your soul. There's something about being in a bookstore that makes you feel infinite, like you can touch the magic. And when I look at it that way, it doesn't make me so anxious."

This we know. And it works even if the bookshop is secular and 500 square feet. Just add the right books... and read.

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

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