Also published on this date: Monday, December 16, 2019: Maximum Shelf: The Jane Austen Society

Shelf Awareness for Monday, December 16, 2019

Henry Holt & Company: Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

Henry Holt & Company: Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

Little, Brown Ink: The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich (a Graphic Novel) by Deya Muniz

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

Dundurn Press: Chasing the Black Eagle by Bruce Geddes

Amulet Books: Batcat: Volume 1 by Meggie Ramm

Berkley Books: The Comeback Summer by Ali Brady


Future ABA CEO Allison Hill on Change and Challenges

For Allison Hill, the president and CEO of Vroman's, Pasadena, Calif., who becomes CEO of the American Booksellers Association March 1, the move is from "one dream job to another dream job." And her new position, which she calls "an honor," is all the more striking because it is one that appealed to her long before it became open.

Hill and her husband usually celebrate New Year's Eve by going "off the grid and doing a reset," which includes a lot of reading, she says. A few years ago, her reading that holiday included Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Knopf) by Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, which is based on a popular class they teach that applies the principles of product design to building a satisfying life. Her reading led Hill to imagine different career paths, and she came up with three options: eventually owning Vroman's; leaving the industry for "another values-based industry"; or becoming CEO of the ABA. "How amazing is that?!" she comments.

Allison Hill

The new position, which she calls "being able to do what I'm doing at Vroman's but on a larger scale, with many bookstores," fell into place in a variety of other ways: she had the realization about possibly becoming CEO of the ABA just before starting to work on her MBA, and she graduated this past June, soon after ABA CEO Oren Teicher announced his impending retirement. Various family matters made a move possible and attractive. "All was lining up," she says.

And, in a broader way, she says, the timing is right. "It's a fascinating time for booksellers and the industry." She cites two general challenges: competition, which will always be changing, and costs, which will keep going up. Booksellers need to stay ahead of that "curve of competition and cost" and "we need to do things to ensure that we have a sustainable business model and industry," she continues. (Many stores do innovative things in those areas, she stresses, and while bookselling is rewarding, it's not easy.) Current challenges include "online shopping at an unprecedented level"; Barnes & Noble's possible "resuscitation"; higher pay for staff (which she emphasizes is a good thing); a looming recession; and an election year. "We've had great leadership for many years, but it's always good to have fresh perspectives, see things with new eyes and reimagine the industry."

She notes that "like the exercises I do with the team" at Vroman's, she wants to talk about how to look at things differently. One key question: "What business are we in?" On paper, the answer seems simple, she continues, but customers can buy books in other types of stores and online. Bookstores offer something that customers value, and understanding that dynamic should help stores "shape new offers and initiatives and can be applied to the ABA and the industry as a whole."

Hill says that technology represents "a tremendous opportunity" for booksellers. It seems counterintuitive: so many customers like bricks-and-mortar bookstores because "they're old fashioned and because they can come into a store, talk to a person, touch a book." Still, "there's a whole new world of language and tech out there that we can't ignore. We have to speak that in some way or disconnect. It's a major challenge." She hopes booksellers can "look outside the industry, learn from other people, and bring that education and messaging back" to the book world.

She also suggests that the way bookstore success is measured should be expanded beyond the number of new stores to include such metrics as the percentage of stores that are profitable, the percentage paying a living wage, "the percentage of booksellers who can sleep at night because they don't feel at risk."

Hill calls it "an exciting time to talk with publishers," in part because, as "in a Venn diagram, our pain points overlap a bit." While the ABA has worked with publishers to create many helpful programs in recent years, more can be done to "grow the business" and make changes that "benefit both publishers and booksellers."

There is "no magic bullet" for the industry, she continues. "Some initiatives will be more successful than others." She points to Bookshop--the online site that aims to capture business that otherwise goes to Amazon--as "a good example of something that will shake up the industry in a good way." Such initiatives "create muscle memory for us to keep innovating."

While studying for her MBA at UCLA, Hill says, the most important lesson she learned was that "over and over you're faced with tasks you think are impossible but then you do them. I learned that anything put in front of me, I can do"--so much so that "I took a four-hour statistics exam!" That "muscle memory" has been invaluable.

For now, Hill is wrapping up her time at Vroman's, which includes (almost) completing the new wine bar; managing the holiday season; and finding and training her replacement. "I want to make it a clean transition," she says.

She is also making the long transition to the ABA. "There's so much in motion," she says. "I'm so lucky to have great partners in Joy and Dan [COO Joy Dallanegra-Sanger and senior strategy officer Dan Cullen]. We're meeting regularly and making decisions. It's a great way to acclimate, to observe, to listen, to see how things have been done in the past and see opportunities for change in the future."

She also praises the ABA's "amazing team. I'm struck by how passionate, committed and hardworking they are. I knew that from a distance, but working with them in the last couple months, I see how truly extraordinary they are." She notes that staff is already discussing "what works well, what might be stale, what they want to change."

She's eager to get to ABA headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., saying, "No matter what, it's different until I'm there and present every day." Noting that she lived in Boston for a decade and in Michigan for three years, Hill says that when she moves to the Northeast from Southern California, she hopes "living in snow and surviving winters all comes back!" --John Mutter

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams

New Owners, New Location for San Diego's Mysterious Galaxy

Mysterious Galaxy, the beloved San Diego, Calif., science fiction and fantasy bookstore that lost its lease and said last month it was going to close unless it found a buyer, has found new owners and will be moving soon.

The new owners are Jenni Marchisotto and Matthew Berger, who announced that the store will stay at its current location until mid-January, then move to 3555 Rosencrans St., Suite 107, in San Diego. The new owners are, the store wrote, "ready to take Mysterious Galaxy into the next decade and beyond!"

New owners Matthew Berger and Jenni Marchisotto

In an announcement, Marchisotto and Berger thanked Terry Gilman, Maryelizabeth Yturralde and Jeff Mariotte for, in 1993, founding "a space welcoming science fiction and fantasy lovers of any age. They have given us, as the bookstore's name suggests, countless galaxies to explore through reading. Ones that just happen to exist every time you open a book and are never farther away than the next page. We would also like to thank store manager Kelly Orazi, and the rest of the Mysterious Galaxy staff for their support through this transition. We know the expert team of booksellers is much of what makes Mysterious Galaxy special. The store wouldn't be the same without them. They are always ready with the perfect recommendation for any customer. We wouldn't want to embark on this journey with anyone else. *insert Lord of the Rings pun here*

"Moving forward, we plan to uphold all that makes Mysterious Galaxy special. We respect and value the store's reputation as an integral part of the literary community in San Diego. We hope that as we enter this new chapter, you will trust us to preserve that identity. We have always seen Mysterious Galaxy as a safe place for anyone interested in exploring new worlds and never want that to change."

Blink: Come Home Safe by Brian G. Buckmire

Papercuts J.P. Moving, Growing in 2020

Papercuts J.P. in Jamaica Plain, Mass., plans to move about a quarter-mile away to a new, larger location in early 2020. According to owner Kate Layte, the bookstore will move from a roughly 400-square-foot space into a space more than three times as large that features windows and lots of natural light, in addition to being ADA accessible and equipped with solar panels.

Layte said she'll make use of the extra space by expanding all of her store's sections. In particular, she's very excited to add more children's titles, more humor and history books and even a small used book section, along with a variety of nonbook items such as art supplies and puppets. At the same time, the additional space will allow her to host regular storytimes and book club meetings, among other events.

The store will stay open in its current location through the rest of the holiday season. Layte hopes to have a soft opening in the new space, at 60 South Street, in February, followed by a grand opening on Independent Bookstore Day in April.

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books: Welcome to the World by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Bookstore Sales Dip 1.7% in October

In October, bookstore sales fell 1.7%, to $710 million, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the first 10 months of the year, bookstore sales have fallen 5.3%, to $8.1 billion.

By comparison, independent bookstores have done better than the Census Bureau average, which includes a range of retailers that sell books. Through November 13, slightly longer than the 10-month period measured by the Census Bureau, sales at ABA member stores, as reported to the weekly bestseller lists, are up 0.1% compared to the same period in 2018. Compound annual growth among ABA member stores is 7.5% during the past five years.

Total retail sales in October rose 3.9%, to $525.8 billion. In the first nine months of the year, total retail sales rose 3.4%, to $4.9 trillion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books."

Obituary Note: Elisabeth Sifton

Elisabeth Sifton

Elisabeth Sifton, "a widely respected book editor and publisher who burnished manuscripts by many of the 20th century's literary lions," died December 13, the New York Times reported. She was 80. Sifton was also an author, "affirming in a memoir that it was her father, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who had popularized what became known as the Serenity Prayer."

Nicholas Lemann, one of many notable writers Sifton worked with, described her as "one of the few people in publishing who's also a prominent public intellectual." Her other authors included Isaiah Berlin, Don DeLillo, Ann Douglas, Susan Eisenhower, Carlos Fuentes, Philip Gourevitch, Michael Ignatieff, Stanley Karnow, Stephen Kinzer, J.R. MacArthur, Robert MacNeil, Peter Matthiessen, Jules Witcover and Victor S. Navasky.

"I can't recall a single author who wasn't over-the-moon grateful for the work she did on their manuscripts," said Altie Karper, editorial director of Schocken Books.

Sifton began her literary career in 1962 with Frederick A. Praeger Publishers. In 1968, after the company was sold, she joined the Viking Press as an editor, and was named editor in chief in 1980. She was executive v-p of Knopf from 1987 to 1992, and then joined Farrar, Straus & Giroux as senior v-p & publisher and editor at large of its subsidiary Hill & Wang.

Her book The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War was published in 2003. With her husband, Fritz Stern, a leading historian of Germany, she also wrote No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State (2013).

As an editor, Sifton "had read deeply enough in literature and history that she could immediately see what was fresh, or why the question investigated or thesis proposed was urgent and necessary," recalled Dan Frank, the editorial director of Pantheon. "There was no area of inquiry or idea that did not engage her curiosity and intellect."

Author Philip Gourevitch tweeted: "Elisabeth Sifton crackled with intelligence and curiosity, and was generous with both. She didn’t suffer fools gladly. She celebrated what inspired and excited her and demanded more of it. She was funny, too, and she had a great, life-giving laugh. RIP."


IPG to Distribute Full Travesí­a List from Editorial Océano de Mexico

Independent Publishers Group is distributing the full catalogue of the Travesí­a imprint of Editorial Océano de Mexico, effective January 1. IPG has distributed select Océano imprints since March 2014; under the new partnership IPG will add more than 300 backlist children's titles to the IPG Spanish-language distribution program.

Editorial Océano de Mexico publishes in a range of categories beyond children's, including spirituality, health and fitness, political science, psychology, self-help. The Travesí­a line includes activity and teaching books and youth literature.

"Océano Travesía's dynamic blend of translations of award-winning English titles and authentic Spanish literature offers high-quality and unique titles to the market," said Kelsey Mrjoian, manager of the IPG Spanish program. "Océano is one of Mexico's leading publishers and with IPG's Spanish distribution expertise, our collaboration will reach a wider audience within the U.S."

Personnel Changes at Workman

Chloe Puton has been promoted to director of publicity for the Workman imprint. She joined Workman Publishing in 2013 as publicist for the Workman imprint, and was later promoted to senior publicist, publicity manager and associate director of publicity. Earlier she was assistant publicist at Penguin Random House and culture and brand analyst at Joshua Glenn Consulting.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Andrea Freeman on Here & Now

NPR's Here & Now: Andrea Freeman, author of Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race and Injustice (Stanford University Press, $28, 9781503601123).

Tonight Show: John Lithgow, author of Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse (Chronicle Prism, $19.95, 9781452182759).

TV: Trust Exercise

FilmNation Entertainment (Arrival, The Big Sick) "is expanding its television slate with the acquisition of Susan Choi's 2019 National Book Award winner Trust Exercise for development as a limited TV series, with Choi attached to pen the adaptation," Deadline reported. The series will be overseen by FilmNation's Hannah Getts, who brought Choi's book in to the company, and Stefanie Berk, executive v-p, television.

"The minute we read Trust Exercise we were blown away by Susan's bold, inventive structure and her exquisite writing," said Berk. "The book explores how we use the process of storytelling to come to terms with the traumas of the past in order to control how our own narratives unfold. The book is a revelation, and FilmNation is excited to be working with Susan to adapt it into a limited series for television."

Choi commented: "I am thrilled to adapt Trust Exercise into a television series with FilmNation--a company that has a great history of empowering artists to create distinctive and award-winning content. It's been incredibly exciting to explore my book anew with such great partners. They have expanded the way I see this story, the characters and its form."

Books & Authors

Awards: PEN America Literary Longlists; MWA Grand Master, Raven, Ellery Queen

PEN America has released longlists for its 2020 Literary Awards, which will confer more than $330,000 to writers and translators whose exceptional literary works were published in 2019. Finalists will be announced in January, and winners will be revealed at the Literary Awards Ceremony on March 2 in New York. See the longlists here.


The Mystery Writers of America has announced three special awards, all of which will be presented at the Edgar Awards Banquet in New York City on April 30, 2020:

The 2020 Grand Master is Barbara Neely, best known for her Blanche White mystery series, the first of which, Blanche on the Lam, won the Agatha Award, Anthony Award, and the Macavity Award for best first novel, as well as the Go on Girl! Award from Black Women's Reading Club. MWA board president Meg Gardiner called Neely "a groundbreaking author, and MWA is delighted to recognize her work, in which she tackles tough social issues with an unflinching eye and a wry sense of humor." The MWA added that the Blanche White novels feature " the first black female series sleuth in mainstream American publishing [and the books] are beloved by fans in part because of her unique heroine--an amateur detective and domestic worker who uses the invisibility inherent to her position to her advantage in her pursuit of the truth."

The recipient of the 2020 Raven Award, recognizing "outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing," is Left Coast Crime, the annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, including both readers and authors; it was first held in San Francisco in 1991.

The winner of the Ellery Queen Award is Kelley Ragland, associate publisher and editorial director of Minotaur Books, who started as an editorial assistant at St. Martin's Press in 1993, became an editor in 1998, and took part in the creation of Minotaur in 1999. In more than 26 years at the St. Martin's Publishing Group, she has worked with such authors as Jeffrey Archer, Kelley Armstrong, Linda Barnes, Steve Berry, Allison Brennan, Chelsea Cain, Andrew Gross, Charlaine Harris, Louise Penny, Dana Stabenow, Olen Steinhauer, and many others.

Book Review

Review: Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Pantheon, $25.95 hardcover, 288p., 9780307907196, January 28, 2020)

This novel in screenplay format from Taiwanese American author Charles Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; Sorry Please Thank You) is a caustic, absurd and endearing exploration of Asian American stereotypes, police procedurals and the immigrant experience.
Yu pulls readers into the spotlight by narrating Willis's inner life in second person, asking the audience to imagine a life as "part of the American show, black and white, except they have no part for yellow." He intersperses these prose passages with scene notations and dialogue structured as though taken from the script of Black and White. In Yu's playful mixture of formats, including montages and a children's show, lines blur between Willis's thoughts and the show's dialogue. Readers will often find themselves unable to tell reality from television, which is Yu's point in a nutshell.
Your name is Willis Wu, but the rest of the world sees you only as Generic Asian Man, if they see you at all. You work as an extra on a police procedural called Black and White, which films in a Chinese restaurant and stars a black actor and white actress. "They get the hero lighting," but you want the light to find you, too. You've worked your way up the ladder from Background Oriental Male and intend to attain the highest on-screen rank for an Asian male: Kung Fu Guy. 
As Willis struggles to reach special guest stardom, he must also navigate his relationship with his aging parents. His father, once a Mysterious Kung Fu Master, has dwindled into a confused elderly man. Willis's mother wants more for her son than the role of Kung Fu Guy, but Willis can't see through his societal conditioning to understand her. In a "Historical Period Piece" flashback, Yu illustrates the elder Wus' past as immigrants and the ways in which stereotypes and oppression work to trap them into a lifetime of servitude and otherness. As Willis comes to realize how little control he has over the part he plays, he becomes emblematic of anyone who feels like a perpetual outsider.
In a passionate and clever ending that parodies television courtroom dramas while offering a brief history of anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S., Yu shows that sometimes the only way out of a prescribed narrative is to beat it at its own game. Leading with laughs but sneaking in a dose of wrenching irony, Yu's format-bending, deeply felt examination of the American dream is an exercise in encouraged empathy that will hold readers' hearts right up to its brilliant finale. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Shelf Talker: Playing with multiple formats, Charles Yu scripts a hilarious and pointed send-up of Asian stereotypes that also asks what it takes to be considered a real American.

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