Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 20, 2020


Harper Perennial: The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel

Algonquin Young Readers: Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1) by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Andrews McMeel Publishing: How to Draw a Reindeer and Other Christmas Creatures with Simple Shapes in 5 Steps by Lulu Mayo

Houghton Mifflin: No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt

Quotation of the Day

'We Are Trying. We Are Fighting.'

"It's all happening so fast. We have whiplash. I have always believed in our vision: to be a lively bookstore. A bookstore where books are talked about and discovered, where staff recommend new worlds to new readers, where a community could come together. It is surreal to walk its aisles and hear silence, like the first days when we signed this lease, before dreaming what these walls could become. Of course, I imagined there would also be dark days--how can you not, when owning an independent bookstore--but not like this. Not like this.

"We are trying. We are fighting. 800 web orders later, our fearless, passionate, hard working team is busy packing and processing, buoyed by the kind comments and outpouring of emotional and financial support. It carries us. It fills us.

"We expect tough times ahead. We expect to be closed to the public for a long, long time. For now, we trek through this day by day, alongside all of you. Our thoughts are with the sick, the health care staff, those in need. Books are not high on the hierarchy of survival needs. Still, I feel a deep sadness, and also, reading through your kind comments, a deep resolve.

"Though our walls aren’t filled with echoes of book lovers browsing books, they are filled with the actions of a staff determined to do everything possible. They are filled with the memories created in the seven years we have been in business, the laughter and blood and sweat and tears of a small business throwing its best punch. It is filled with the hope that we will get through this. Together. The dream lives on that, one day, this will once again be a lively bookstore. And we're not sleeping until that dream comes true, once again."

--Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich., in a Facebook post Wednesday

University of California Press: Smoke But No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes That Never Happened by Jessica S. Henry


News

BookExpo, Unbound and BookCon Moving to Late July

BookExpo, Unbound and BookCon are being moved to July 22-26 from May 27-31, at the Javits Center in New York City.

Reedpop, the organizer of the events, explained: "We have been closely monitoring the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York and around the country. Following the guidance of health officials, we are now complying with the State's request that large gatherings be postponed to ensure the well-being of everyone involved with our event."

Event director Jenny Martin commented: "If the situation changes again between now and July, we will change along with it. We run events, we pivot proudly. Right now, we remain focused on the goal of serving our community this summer with those who want to do the same."

She added: "We are committed to running a show for this industry and the fans this year. What will that show look like? We are not exactly sure yet. But we believe we will be on the other side of this and ready to get together and do what we love to do: discover, discuss, celebrate and connect through books."

Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, which holds its annual meeting during BookExpo, said, "It's been incredibly moving these past few weeks to watch the book community come together during this unprecedented crisis. I've been reminded over and over again of how important books and bookstores are to the world. Reed's announcement that the show will go on, just postponed, is a significant sign of support for our industry and what we do, and I have no doubt that this summer's show will be another example of our industry's resiliency. ABA is excited that BookExpo will take place in July. We are grateful to Reed for their commitment and for the opportunity for us all to gather together in the near future to celebrate books."




GLOW: Houghton Mifflin: How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World's Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz


COVID-19: Tough Decisions and More Cancellations

Third Place's store in Seward Park.

Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Seattle's Third Place Books, in Lake Forest Park, Ravenna and Seward Park, reported that he and his team have chosen to keep the three stores open. Remarking that that's a "rarity in Seattle right now," Sindelar said he's following all national and local recommendations very closely and is reevaluating the situation day by day. 

Sindelar and his team have been following Washington State guidelines for restaurants, which allow them to stay open for take-out and delivery only. All of the chairs have been removed from the three locations, so customers can't sit and congregate, and there are warnings posted in the stores about social distancing and other health guidelines.

"Basically we un-third placed ourselves," said Sindelar, adding that they are trying as much as possible to limit browsing and make the stores "grab-and-go" shops.

A lot of customers have been making use of the store's free shipping option, and the Third Place team has added used books to its online store, which is something they don't normally do. Altogether, Sindelar said, sales have actually been okay, and it seems that many shoppers are grateful, especially parents coming in to buy things for their children.

On the subject of his staff, Sindelar said no one is explicitly required to come to work, noting that Third Place employees have both health insurance and paid vacation time, and he and his team are also making special arrangements on a case-by-case basis, such as for employees who are over 60 and shouldn't risk coming to work.

"What we've done this week has paid for our employees' health insurance through the end of May," Sindelar said. "Every day we can stay open stabilizes the foundation for our employees more."

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Samantha Schoech, program director for Independent Bookstore Day, reported that the IBD advisory committee is still working on a new date for the annual celebration of bookselling, which will likely be late summer or early fall. She stressed that even when an official date is announced, it will be tentative, as no one can predict what things will look like even five or six months from now.

At the same time, Schoech and her colleagues are still planning for a big publicity push around April 25, but it will be "more of a love-your-indies, keep-your-indies afloat kind of push." The national campaign will focus more on shopping online at indies and celebrating indies generally. In the weeks ahead, marketing material related to this new focus will appear on the IBD website.

Schoech added that IBD exclusive merchandise will not be shipped until a new date is certain. Many stores may not be open to sell or receive those items in April, Schoech explained, and no one wants indies to be billed for those items months before they are allowed to sell them. On a related note, the Shea Serrano exclusive edition has been canceled, as the book's pub date has been pushed to October. There will still be an exclusive edition, Schoech said, but it will not be IBD-related.

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Free Comic Book Day, scheduled for May 2, has been postponed. Diamond Comic Distributors said that as the impact and spread of COVID-19 continues to evolve, FCBD would be impacted to varying degrees throughout the world and "the difficult decision to postpone the event to a date later in the summer" had to be made.

"The severity and timing of the impact of the COVID-19 virus can’t be predicted with any certainty, but the safety of our retailer partners and comic book fans is too important to risk. As always, we appreciate your enthusiasm for and support of the comic industry's best event and look forward to celebrating with you later in the Summer," said Diamond founder and CEO Steve Geppi.

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The Mystery Writers of America canceled the Edgar Awards banquet and symposium in New York City, scheduled for April 30. MWA said "the health, safety, and well-being of our nominees, guests, members and the hotel staff have to be paramount, and it is not in anyone's best interest that we go forward with the festivities. We still plan on celebrating the achievements of our finalists and announcing the winners; how we will do that is currently under discussion. We also still intend to publish this year's Edgar annual."

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"Strange days are upon us. As ancient as I am, I cannot recall ever having lived through anything like the past few weeks," bestselling author George R.R. Martin wrote on his blog. While he temporarily shuttering several of his enterprises in Santa Fe, N.Mex., Beastly Books will remain open for the time being, though author events have been canceled or postponed. "If it seems best to shut the bookstore too, we will do that."

Martin added: "Truth be told, I am spending more time in Westeros than in the real world, writing every day. Things are pretty grim in the Seven Kingdoms... but maybe not as grim as they may become here.... Let us hope we all come through this safe and sound. Stay well, my friends. Better to be safe than sorry."


Atheneum Books for Young Readers: Tune It Out by Jamie Summer


Ingram Adapts to 'Unprecedented Shifts in How Consumers Buy Books'

Ingram Content Group, which sees the business from a variety of perspectives--it offers distributing, wholesaling, print on demand and digital services as well as the IngramSpark independent author and publisher platform--has experienced in the past weeks what it calls "unprecedented shifts in how consumers buy books. These shifts include changes in book availability due to supply chain issues, traffic at retail stores, temporary closures of libraries and retailers, and an increase in direct-to-consumer book sales, whether in print or e formats." (The company stressed that with so many bookstores moving to home delivery and online sales, Ingram's Direct-to-Home service is "a good way to help loyal customers continue to buy books from stores.")

The company said it's in "a good position to help the industry during this difficult time." Its five North American centers and the recently re-located U.K. distribution facility support one another and have a high level of operational redundancy. The POD business has seven facilities around the world, some of them located with distribution centers. As volume changes, the company is "shifting our people and connectivity to where business is moving, while paying attention to the needs of those who are most affected."

Depending on their locations, Ingram's sales, marketing, customer service and administrative staffs are either working from home or have the option of working from home. At warehouses, the company is focused on keeping staff "safe and healthy. We are allowing for timing between shifts, are focused on social distancing, are cleaning like crazy, and are limiting access to our DCs. If we find ourselves with a requirement to close a facility, we are confident we can be back up and running very quickly. We've been actively talking to publishers and retailers about our business continuity planning. If a print facility or distribution center is closed for any reason, we are capable of shifting work. Shifting work may result in short delays depending on the geography, but we'll still be shipping books."

There are a few disruptions in the supply chain, particularly the "difficulty of importing new book printing and exporting from North America through air routes," which has led to some stock problems and changes in on-sale dates. The company highly recommends publishers use Lightning Source POD services to be able to meet demand quickly. "We've seen a great influx of trade, academic, kids and illustrated titles being set up through Lightning Source and expect the trend to continue," Ingram said. In general, titles selling strongly during this time have been self help, cookery, children's books, work books and activity books, and journals.

Ingram has also "seen an influx of new e-conversions and audio titles" through its CoreSource digital service business. "We all know that the 'e' business has been relatively flat over the past few years," Ingram said. "We expect 'e' formats to continue to grow. CoreSource is well positioned to provide global e distribution and data management."

The company emphasized that it is consulting regularly with suppliers, clients and customers, and urges booksellers and others to be in contact.


University Press of Kentucky: The Redshirt (University Press of Kentucky New Poetry & Prose) by Corey Sobel


International Book Trade: Waterstones Stores Still Open; China Increases Book Orders

James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said the coronavirus crisis has led to "unprecedented demand" and called for all bookshops to be kept open over the coming months to meet a social need, the Bookseller reported. According to Daunt, overall sales, including online, were up 17% on March 18 alone at the bookstore chain, which has thus far closed only four campus bookshops temporarily.

"In the behavior that we're experiencing at the moment, demonstrably books are a necessity and, frankly, a social support for people that are going to be spending a lot of time in their homes," he said, adding that it was vital all bookshops remain open because they provide a social good for adults staying at home and children whose schools have been closed.

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Hachette UK CEO David Shelley said the company "has seen an increase in book orders from China once again after 'several months of very low orders' as a result of the coronavirus outbreak," the Bookseller reported, adding that in a letter to authors, illustrators and translators, Shelley acknowledged these are "very uncertain and unsettling times," but reassured them that there are positive signs "so it feels hopeful that they are out of the worst of the virus, and that at some point we will be too."

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Paolo Ambrosini

"Plenty of time to read and no bookstores open--such is the situation in Italy under coronavirus lockdown that is making independent booksellers see red," AFP (via France 24) reported. Paolo Ambrosini, a bookseller in Verona and president of the Italian Booksellers Association, said, "Online bookshops are open with their delivery men on the move and employees doing the packing. If books are deemed unnecessary, then let them be blocked everywhere."

Publisher Mondadori said the closure of its 600 or so bookshops had been "partly offset" by the strong growth of online sales, which had risen by more than 50%, AFP noted, adding that in Belluno, to the north of Venice, "a mayor on Monday allowed the five booksellers in the municipality of 27,000 people to deliver to people's homes."

Alessandro Tarantola, who now locks himself in his bookshop to take calls and deliver books immediately, wearing a mask and gloves, said, "Reading is a fundamental thing, it opens the heart, the mind, allows us to lose ourselves in a world other than the one in which we live now."

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This year's Hay Festival in Wales has been canceled due the coronavirus outbreak, "with organizers saying it is now in 'immediate financial jeopardy' and has 10 days to raise emergency funds," the Bookseller wrote. A £150,000 [about $193,535] GoFundMe page has been set up to help support the event's immediate future.

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A list of "schedule changes and event cancellations at independent bookstores across Canada" was featured by Quill & Quire, which noted that as the country's chief public health officer "urges Canadians to stay home amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, indie bookstores are altering their hours, offering discounted or free delivery and, in some cases, closing entirely."

"Right now we are doing our best to keep as safe as possible and to keep the stores open so all the staff get paid," Ian Donker, general manager of the four-store Book City chain in Toronto, told the Star. "I've been doing the 16 and 1/2-hour day circuit for the last week and a half or so, and I'm beat."

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In France, Hachette Livre and Editis announced measures to help independent booksellers through the coronavirus crisis following the closure of all shops in France, except for those considered essential, and the total national lockdown, the Bookseller reported. Hachette is halting the launch of all new titles in France and other Francophone markets "to allow bookshops to anticipate fully the return (to normality) when it comes," and will postpone by 60 days booksellers' payment deadlines for March, April and May. The company is also preparing "a financial plan to help indies rebuild their stocks after the crisis is over. The measures would take account of the length of the crisis," the Bookseller noted.

Editis also said it would immediately credit book returns already registered and would postpone its January, February and March invoices until June. It will also suspend the launch of new titles to all retail customers between March 26 and the end of April. Gallimard will postpone its publishing program for the same period, while Media Participations said it would delay bookshops' payment deadlines.

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Australian Booksellers Association CEO Robbie Egan reported to members that he has been speaking with and corresponding with publishers about the issues bookshops are facing and the possible assistance that could be provided, adding: "We are putting together a social media campaign promoting local bookshops along the lines of our very successful Love Your Bookshop Day initiative which we will start rolling out shortly. Publishers and authors are all pushing this also so there is a lot of noise about what bookshops are doing. We will look to push out in about a week for an extended period. Australia Reads--the rebranded Australian Reading Hour--promotes the benefits reading more broadly. It happens in September, but #AustraliaReadsAtHome is promoting the benefits of reading at home during the COVID-19 crisis."


Kidlit Coronavirus-Fighting Ideas of the Day

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to close offices, schools and libraries, many parents are working from home while their children attend online classes. The children's literature community has responded by offering live-streamed story times, art lessons, teaching guides, an entirely online children's book festival and much more. Here are links to some of the offerings.

On Instagram, children's authors like Oliver Jeffers and Mac Barnett are using the live function to do daily readings of their picture books, while YA authors Tiffany D. Jackson and Nic Stone are chatting with readers and other authors; Molly Idle and Dan Santat are giving drawing and history lessons; and Gene Luen Yang is "touring as a cartoon" after having to cancel his "in-person" tour.

On the Kennedy Center website, author/illustrator Mo Willems is inviting viewers into his studio every weekday for the next few weeks to create lunchtime doodles with him. Kate DiCamillo has launched a #writewithkate video series on her Facebook page. The Everywhere Book Fest, founded by authors Melanie Conklin, Ellen Oh and Christina Soontornvat, is an entirely online children's book festival scheduled for May 1-2. Their "aim is to bring the celebration and joy of the book festival experience directly into the homes of readers everywhere."

Several publishers, such as Disney, Penguin, Albert Whitman, Harper Kids, Tundra Books and Cinco Puntos Press, are making sure parents and educators have access to teaching materials.

The Children's Book Council is "creating a resource page and eblast" which will link to educator and activity kits; if you have suggestions for them, you can e-mail Shaina.Birkhead@cbcbooks.org. And WeAreTeachers.org has compiled "The Big List of Children's Authors Doing Online Readings and Activities." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the Children's Literature Research Collections (which includes the Kerlan Collection) at the University of Minnesota, is working to aggregate videos of children's authors and artists reading their works. She's calling the project #OperationReadAloud. 

Von Drasek has been in touch with a preschool teacher in Italy who's been in lockdown for more than three weeks. Alda had been videoing herself reading aloud picture books and sending these to her students' families. Von Drasek started sending links to videos of authors reading to share with the families.

Meanwhile, author/artist Rosemary Wells was organizing a group of writers, publishers and booksellers to create and share videos. What came out of their collaboration is #OperationReadAloud and #LiveRead.

Authors and artists are invited to post their videos in the Facebook group #OperationReadAloud. Von Drasek will repost selected videos, along with activities like writing and art projects, on the Blue Ox Review.

She has also been working with Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee's bookstore in San Jose, Calif., to spread the word and encourage authors and artists to join the effort. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness


Notes

Notes of Determination, Appreciation & Entertainment

In the midst of the COVID-19 distress, indie booksellers continue to share messages of determination, appreciation and even entertainment.

Beware of news updates. Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, Ga.: "Social Media and current events getting you down? Escape into the magic of a book! Turn up your sound."


"Day 2 of our weird new reality" at One More Page Books & More, Arlington, Va.

A video of gratitude from Rediscovered Books, Boise, Idaho: "Thank you for your support and kind words, we've already gotten a bunch of orders for delivery and curbside pick-up. Keep an eye on our social media, we have big plans to stay connected with our community!"

Support local businesses. Whistlestop Bookshop, Carlisle, Pa.: "Rowan and I had a very busy day here at the Whistlestop Bookshop--Pandemic Edition. We figured out efficient ways to process all the different types of orders, efficient ways to time deliveries and mailings, notify people with orders all the different ways they could get their books, and we processed four boxes of books, puzzles, and puppets delivered by UPS. So, hey, we needed sustenance. I walked down for Hamilton Restaurant takeout. Rowan had never eaten there. Okay, she still hasn't, but she enjoyed a great grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I had the fish sandwich, the one where the filet is as long as my forearm. We split a huge order of fries. The food was so hot and freshly cooked we had to eat slowly and savor. First time in their history they did takeout. I think George Washington ate there after reviewing the troops during the Whiskey Rebellion. Amazing. Support your Local!"


Personnel Changes at Abrams Children's Books

Lora Grisafi is promoted to senior designer, marketing at Abrams Children's Books.

Natali Cavanagh has joined Abrams Children's Books as marketing coordinator. She was previously marketing assistant at Little Brown Books for Young Readers.



Media and Movies

BBC Launches 'Culture in Quarantine' Initiative

The BBC has launched Culture in Quarantine, an arts and culture initiative that will run across the service's U.K. radio, television and digital platforms. Variety reported that the programming "will include guides to shuttered exhibitions or permanent collections in museums and galleries; performances from musicians and comedians; new plays created especially for broadcast; the experience of book festivals with access to authors; and quarantine diaries from creative visionaries."

"In supporting this activity, there is a clear role for the BBC," said Jonty Claypole, director of BBC Arts. "As a public service organization, it has always aimed to be more than a broadcaster but a stage, gallery and cultural platform in everybody's homes. Our commitment to artists has only increased in recent years with greater space given to music, performance, spoken word, the visual arts, creative documentary and new or emerging multi-disciplinary talent. This puts us in a strong position to deliver and deliver quickly."

Claypole added that Culture in Quarantine is rooted in the experience of "both voluntary and involuntary isolation.... All this will be done hand-in-hand with the wider arts and cultural sector through coverage and collaboration. Some things we will be able to do directly, others we will support in different ways or simply just put a spotlight on."


Books & Authors

Awards: CILIP Carnegie, Kate Greenaway Shortlists; Ben Franklin Finalists

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has released shortlists for the Carnegie Medal (author of a book for children & young people) and Kate Greenaway Medal (illustrator). 

The Awards' mission is "to inspire and empower the next generation to shape a better world through books and reading," and the titles featured in the shortlists promote values such as environmentalism, acceptance, kindness and bravery. The eight titles in each shortlist were chosen by volunteer Youth Librarians, who narrowed it down from longlists of twenty titles each.

For the Carnegie Medal, the titles are: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar (Hachette Children's Book Group); Nowhere on Earth by Nick Lake (Hachette Children's Group); Lark by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke); Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Little Tiger); Lampie, written and illustrated by Annet Schaap and translated by Laura Watkinson (Pushkin Children's Books); Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black by Marcus Sedgwick and Julian Sedgwick, illustrated by Alexis Deacon (Walker Books); On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Walker Books); and Girl. Boy. Sea. by Chris Vick (Head of Zeus).

For the Kate Greenaway Medal, the titles are: You're Snug with Me, illustrated by Poonam Mistry and written by Chitra Soundar (Lantana Publishing); The Iron Man illustrated b Chris Mould and written by Ted Hunger (Faber & Faber); The Suitcase written and illustrated by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros (Nosy Crow); The Undefeated illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Kwame Alexander (Andersen Press); The Dam illustrated by Levi Pinfold and written by David Almond (Walker Books); Mary and Frankenstein illustrated by Júlia Sardà and written by Linda Bailey (Andersen Press); Tales from the Inner City written and illustrated by Shaun Tan (Walker Books); Child of St. Kilda written and illustrated by Beth Waters (Child's Play).

Winners will be announced in June.

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Finalists have been announced for the 32nd annual IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association. To see the nominees in the 55 categories, click here. Winners will be named in May.


Reading with... Alka Joshi

photo: Garry Bailey

Alka Joshi is a graduate of Stanford University and the California College of Arts in San Francisco. She was born and lived in Rajasthan, India, until the age of nine, when her family moved to the United States. Her debut novel, The Henna Artist, was published March 3, 2020, by Mira Books, which will also publish The Royal Jewel Cinema, the sequel to The Henna Artist. Joshi lives in Northern California and runs a marketing and advertising agency.

On your nightstand now:

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett: I love stories about families--the complex relationships, misunderstandings and shifting loyalties that take place over decades. In every one of her novels, Patchett builds the world of her characters and infuses them with such unique personalities that I'm compelled to care about them.

The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell: Who doesn't like a good mystery? One that leads us down unpredictable warrens, some of which lead to riches and others to red herrings? My love of mysteries started with cozies and matured to psychological thrillers like this one.

Very Nice, Marcy Dermansky: Satires are fun, especially when the characters are modern-day, self-absorbed writers and a witty author like Dermansky is writing about them.

Women Talking, Miriam Toews: I like reading about unfamiliar worlds. This novel, by an ex-Mennonite, builds on sexual abuse by men within a Mennonite community and the women's attempt to deal with it.

A Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes: Is it because I was brought up in the British school system in India that I feel an affinity for English writers? I'm drawn in by their dry wit and self-deprecating style. Not to mention stories about boarding schools, headmasters and crushworthy boys.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Once we were in America, I devoured Leona Mattingly Weber's series about Beany Malone, a girl close to my age. Beany helped me understand American girls, friendships and teenage longing, which was 1950s wholesome, not 2020 no-holds-barred (that might have taken me to another place entirely!). I also fell in love with Agatha Christie mysteries, which, as an immigrant, felt both familiar and foreign to me: a Belgian detective, Poirot, who lived in England, drank French tea and traveled to exotic places where he solved the murder using psychological insight, not guns and gore. Ahh, simpler times.

Your top five authors:

Please don't ask me to limit it to five! There are so many wonderful authors in this world. Although, as I started to list them, I realized my faves were primarily women:

Anne Tyler, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Khaled Hosseini, Jane Austen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zoë Ferraris, Anita Amirrezvani, John Steinbeck, Tracy Chevalier, Ann Patchett, George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin), Kaye Gibbons, Charles Dickens , Shobha Rao, Ha Jin, Julie Otsuka, Larry McMurtry, Akhil Sharma, Gillian Flynn, Charlotte Brontë.

Book you've faked reading:

Homer's Odyssey. Oy. Had to for college. If only they'd had Ted Talks back then, I might have been able to get through it. I still have nightmares about being caught short in class!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. In this smart, witty little novel, 36-year-old Keiko is content with her simple life and her job at Smile Mart convenience store, but her family and co-workers tell her she should want more. Murata cleverly highlights what's wrong with our continual need to strive for more when happiness could be as simple as maintaining our status quo. It's like a bite-sized Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now, only fictionalized--and funny.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky.For a jewelry lover like me, that Tiffany blue cover was calling to me like chameli to a bee (a reference from The Henna Artist to a sweet-smelling flower that bees cannot resist).

Book you hid from your parents:

I never had to hide anything from my parents. They were way less prudish than me! At age 18, when I worked up the courage to tell my sari-clad, arranged-marriage Mom that I wanted to sleep with my first boyfriend, my mother grinned (as if to say finally!) and advised me to get enough experience before getting married. Then she took me to get birth control pills.

Book that changed your life:

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This book, more than any other I'd read, took me to a dark place for months and would not let me go. Mistry's protagonists--good-hearted, simple folk--made me cry and rail against a political system that thwarted them at every turn. If I could ever write anything one-sixteenth as powerful as this novel, I will die a happy woman.

Favorite line from a book:

"After all, tomorrow is another day." This line is one that Scarlett often repeats in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. As a teenager, I loved Scarlett's resilience and her refusal to dwell on the negative. Her philosophy and mine: no matter what obstacles I face today, I can get up tomorrow and start anew. This has allowed me to reinvent myself throughout my life.

Five books you'll never part with:

When a flood in my Palo Alto house destroyed some 300 books, lots of art and furniture, I learned not to get too attached to possessions. Now there's always the internet, audio and e-books--in case there's another flood in my future!

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

Once again, I can't stop at just one... Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

How we encourage readers to reach more often for fiction that takes place in other countries:

As his Academy Award acceptance, Bong Joon-ho, the South Korean director of Parasite, said, "Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films." Similarly, we need to encourage readers to welcome foreign words in novels. Once readers realize how much they can pick up just from the context and, as in the case of The Henna Artist, when there's a glossary included, they can travel to incredible, magical places far, far away without leaving their couch or emptying their pocketbook.


Book Review

Review: What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life

What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life by Mark Doty (W.W. Norton, $25.95 hardcover, 288p., 9780393070224, April 14, 2020)

It was part of Walt Whitman's extraordinary innovation with Leaves of Grass to close time and space, to bring his observations and a sense of intimacy to each reader who finds him. It feels perfectly natural that acclaimed poet and memoirist Mark Doty (Dog Years; Still Life with Oysters and Lemon; Deep Lane) chooses to receive, interpret and muse upon these transmissions with What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life.

Doty, like Whitman, is gifted with words, a lover of beauty and of men, a New Yorker. He feels haunted by the elder poet, sees and smells him in the museum of Whitman's home, again encounters his ghost "above the shoulders of a bedmate on a winter afternoon early in the twenty-first century, in an apartment tower in Hell's Kitchen." What Is the Grass is a close reading of Whitman's great work, but also of American poetry, same-sex love, the exuberance of the physical body, myriad cultural shifts and Doty's own life.

As is his habit, Doty's mind on the page wanders widely. Considering a "weird period piece of art porn," he realizes that "even in the imagined paradise of limitless eros, there must be room for death." Indeed, death is the fifth of five sources Doty identifies for Whitman's genius, by which he organizes this book. First, "an experience... of transforming character, loosening the doors from their jambs," some life-changing moment or moments in Whitman's life. The second source, "The Unwriteable," is vigorously, jubilantly celebrated queer sexuality; here and throughout, Doty considers his loves and lovers, relationships and travels.

Next the very city, the "great stream and pulse of life" that is Manhattan, and then language itself, the lovely trips and surprises and sensuous effects and all the multitudinous details to be found in the Crystal Palace exhibition, "at which examples of practically everything human endeavor had created up to 1853 were on display." Add to this slang and regionalisms, and "these words splash onto the page in Whitman's first edition, as if a dam holding back a flood of new speech had been dynamited, all at once, by the force of a single poem."

The fifth source of Whitmanian genius is death, "that strong and delicious word," which Doty as well must wrestle with. "I've seen a man I loved die, and it seemed to me a pure liberation." But "time avails not, distance avails not," as Whitman and Doty each repeat, and the latter helps navigate the former. Readers should be prepared to dig out a copy of Leaves of Grass (or find one: "there is a copy of the Leaves in every used bookstore, everywhere in the nation, count on it") upon reading this book, which makes an indispensable companion and guide. Arriving finally at "the poet's greatest glory, and the exegete's inescapable defeat," in the end, Doty reminds us that Whitman's "words accomplish what words cannot," and exits quietly. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: What Is the Grass is literary criticism and explication, memoir and meditation, and the kind of fine, evocative, thoughtful prose that Mark Doty does best.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Reading Into the Wind

As we all adjust to a new world of social distancing, self-isolation and quarantines, advice is coming at us from every direction. And some of it is bad, like a post I saw yesterday from a Facebook friend that began: "I just posted something that may or may not be true...."

Here in New York, Governor Cuomo has compared COVID-19 to a tsunami hitting the state and its medical infrastructure. Keeping watch from my upstate shelter-in-place office, I've felt it more like a terrible wind whipping through the book trade, and we are all in the process of learning how to sail as gusts shift drastically by the hour.

Some decisions are out of our control, subject to daily updates on what we can and cannot do with our lives and how we conduct business now. At Shelf Awareness, we're trying to keep you informed about the book trade's responses at all levels. Other publications are offering work tips ("Panicked about working from home? Here's how to do it right"), consumer recommendations ("How to help local businesses crushed by coronavirus: 4 things you can do right now) and even humor ("Working from Home During a Global Pandemic Bingo").

As anyone reading this column already knows, books are a survival strategy, too. All of us--booksellers, publishers, writers and more--have been blessed with the vocation of getting books into the hands of readers, and that mission is even more important now as we find ourselves increasingly cut off from direct human connection and seeking alternatives.

Many readers understandably opt for escape from the fierce gales--apocalyptic headlines and social media panic--with books that take them away from it all, if only for a brief time. Others are reading into the wind. Increased interest in titles like Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, Stephen King's The Stand and Dean Koontz's The Eyes of Darkness are symptoms of the latter strategy, I suspect. The Plague by Albert Camus, which I've been rereading myself, has also gotten a lot of attention.

As humans, we cope with fear and danger in our own ways. As readers, we do the same thing, but with books added to our toolkits. Lately I've been thinking a lot about a writer whose works have guided me for a long, long time. I'm sure you have your own.

Since the early 1970s, I've kept ragged, read-and-reread mass market editions of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward and The First Circle within reach near my desk, wherever that desk has been. I started reading Solzhenitsyn about the same time that my father was dying in his own, low-budget version of Cancer Ward. My family had little money. The health insurance from the marble mill where he had worked for many years was less than comprehensive.

In 1971, shortly before he died, my father was taken to the VA hospital in White River Junction, Vt. He could no longer be cared for at home and was placed in a ward with a half-dozen other men in various states of decay. What was I reading then? Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn's harsh, fictionalized account of his battle with the disease in the early 1950s; a battle ultimately won not so much with, but in spite of, Soviet medicine. A book with startling echoes of my father's experience, it was also the perfect companion for that strange time in my life. Reading into the wind instead of escaping it helped me compartmentalize somehow what we were going through as a family. 

A few years later, when my precious copy began to fray at the edges, I bought a sewn leather cover from the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury to protect it. (Now I'm suddenly obsessing over the concept of making pricey leather covers to protect cheap mass market paperbacks--a nice, if momentary, distraction.)

At the VA hospital, I would sometimes sit under a shade tree on the lawn and read Solzhenitsyn's description of a crowded, disgusting ward in a Soviet hospital. It was frightening in a terrible, immediate and utterly personal way, like reading the libretto for a ghastly opera, then going back inside the theater to see a live production. It would have reduced the sternest audience to tears. But... it also kept me sane at the time.

This week, almost half a century later, I was reading Solzhenitsyn's Between Two Millstones, Book 1: Sketches of Exile, 1974–1978, translated by Peter Constantine (University of Notre Dame Press), and reached the section where the exiled Soviet dissident has finally landed in Cavendish, Vt., not far from where I lived then.

"The American public, friendly and childishly hankering for the sensational, of course immediately deluged us with an avalanche of letters," he writes, adding that these included "requests from cancer patients concerning information on cures, where to get and how to use the Issyk-Kul root and birch mushrooms. (I always replied to cancer patients immediately.)"

For readers, the lines of communication can open with every book. And if we're lucky, we find the ones we need when we need them most. Be well, and read well.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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