Shelf Awareness for Monday, November 9, 2020


Shambhala: Wait: A Love Letter to Those in Despair by Cuong Lu

Other Press: Nuestra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation by Claudio Lomnitz

Scholastic Press: Muted by Tami Charles

Berkley Books: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

News

Grand Opening: Watershed Books & Literary Arts Center

Watershed Books & Literary Arts Center, offering new and used titles, hosted its grand opening Friday at 108 Main Street in Brookville, Pa. The center is run by the Watershed Journal, a nonprofit literary organization.

"We've been working for over a month to get this place ready for our ever-growing literary community with thousands of books, cozy furnishings, and a bunch of little 'extras' to make Watershed Books feel like home to both readers and writers," noted Watershed Journal executive editor Jessica Weible and managing editor Sarah Rossey in a Facebook post. "But what makes Watershed Books even more impressive is to know that when you walk through our door and look around, everything that you see has been donated by members of our community. We don't take this lightly. In fact, we feel even more responsibility to pursue our mission to empower and elevate regional authorship in the western Pennsylvania Wilds."

Weible recently told Explore Jefferson: "When we first had the idea for Watershed Books, we decided to reach out to our network of supporters and see if it was something they wanted to happen. The way that our sponsors, submitters, and readers have rallied behind the effort to open Watershed Books has been amazing."

Rossey added: "The literary scene in our region has been growing wider and deeper, and we are honored to establish a literary arts center in the midst of this fervor. The unique perspective and enthusiasm in those who choose to make their home here is matched earnestly by our communal support for each other's voices. With workshops, seminars, writing and reading groups, and more, we aim to feed and foster our storytellers in meaningful and lasting ways."


Aftershock Comics: Kill a Man by Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, illustrated by Alec Morgan


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Puts Trade Division Up for Sale; Ellen Archer Departs

After a difficult third quarter, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt plans "to explore the potential sale" of its trade publishing division, HMH Books & Media, and has hired Centerview Partners, an investment banking and private equity firm, to handle that.

At the same time, HMH Books & Media president Ellen Archer has decided to leave her position, and the company thanked her for her contributions. Ed Spade, most recently v-p, sales and national accounts and head of HMH Audio, is serving as interim president.

Ellen Archer

In the quarter, ended September 30, HMH, primarily a publisher of textbooks, education and learning materials, was deeply affected by the pandemic, which led to reduced sales and textbook adoptions. Revenue for the company fell 31.7%, to $387 million, and the company had a net loss of $12.5 million, compared to a net gain of $69.3 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

Ironically, considering the potential sale, in the quarter the education part of the company had a sales loss of $187 million while trade division sales rose 15.8%, or $7.6 million, to $55.7 million. HMH attributed the trade sales gain "primarily to an increase in licensing revenue of $7 million, which includes $4 million from the Carmen Sandiego series on Netflix." For the first nine months of the year, HMH Books & Media sales rose 1%, to $129.2 million. The company noted that the trade division's sales were affected by "the closure of bookstores during the Covid-19 pandemic and the corresponding delay in releases of new frontlist titles."

In early October, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt let go 22% of its employees, none of whom were in the trade division. The potential sale of the trade division would, the company said, "reduce debt and build on the company's October 1 restructuring to align its cost structure to its digital-first, connected strategy, and create a pure-play learning technology company."

Concerning the trade division, Jack Lynch, president & CEO, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, commented: "We are extremely proud of the HMH Books & Media team--the business has demonstrated continued success and resilience, particularly through this challenging year. Our decision to explore a potential sale is strategic in nature, as we deepen our focus on a digital first, connected approach to serving K-12 students and teachers. HMH Books & Media continues to be a leader and innovator, carrying forth a long literary legacy while also pushing boundaries and expanding formats. The team will remain focused on acquiring competitive and unique projects and bringing award-winning books to readers. We will look for a potential owner who recognizes the value of this business and will honor the talent, heritage and innovation of the HMH Books & Media team.

"I have great confidence in Ed Spade and his ability to lead the team forward in the key role of interim president. He has worked closely with our editors, beloved authors and creators to bring bestselling books to market, and he brings extensive industry knowledge to the table, having managed the sales and distribution of titles for HMH and other publishers. His experiences in wholesale and deep understanding of the broad retail market, online sales, supply chain, and the in-house digital and print publishing processes make him well-suited to this new role."

Ellen Archer was named president of what was then called HMH Trade Publishing five years ago. Earlier she spent 15 years at the Disney ABC Television Group, and for five years was president and publisher of Hyperion Books, then a division of the Walt Disney Company. She also consulted for start-ups and nonprofits, providing strategic advice in content development, marketing and business planning.


GLOW: Beacon Press: Boyz n the Void: a mixtape to my brother by G'Ra Asim


IPC's Indie Playlists Add Events

The Indie Playlists promotion, created by the Independent Publishers Caucus to support independent bookstores across the country, has added events to the program. With each round of playlists (currently planned for every June, August and October), there will a live, virtual conversation for each playlist. The first two take place this week and next and focus on the October playlists.

The Fight to Save the Environment playlist event will be held this Wednesday, November 11, at 5 p.m. Eastern, and feature poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of World of Wonders (Milkweed), and novelist Andrew Krivak, author of The Bear (Bellevue), who will discuss their latest books and our relationship to the natural world. Lauren LeBlanc of the Observer will moderate.

The Acts of Courage Playlist event takes place Thursday, November 19, at 7 p.m. Eastern, and will feature Roxane Gay, author of Untamed State (Grove), and Okey Ndibe, author of Arrows of Rain (Soho), who will discuss their earlier novels and explore the concept of courage amid chaos. Andy Tepper of the Brooklyn Book Festival will moderate.

Attendees can RSVP on Eventbrite (here for Save the Environment and here for Acts of Courage) and have the option of donating to charities selected by the authors. (The Book Industry Charitable Foundation has been designated the recipient for the Acts of Courage event.)

Ten bookstores from across the country are serving as partners, and the events will begin and end highlighting the bookstore partners with photos of the stores and links in the chat to purchase the books from them. Introductions to the events aim to tell the audience about the importance of indie bookstores and presses in the literary ecosystem.

The partner bookstores are Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn.; Deep Vellum Books, Dallas, Tex.; Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo.; Loyalty Bookstores, Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Md.; Paulina Springs Books, Sisters, Ore.; Savoy Bookshop and Café, Westerly, R.I.; Seminary Co-op, Chicago, Ill.; The Book Nerd, Barrington, R.I.; The Potter's House, Washington, D.C.; and This House of Books, Billings, Mont.


Berkley Books: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto


International Update: #SignForOurBookshops in U.K., 'Creative Rights = Creative Reads' in N.Z.

With Covid-19 restrictions again in place across the U.K., author Holly Bourne has launched #SignForOurBookshops. The social media campaign offers a national show of support from U.K. authors by urging the public to buy through high-street bookshops, and by offering exclusive signed bookplates, designed by former Children's Laureate Chris Riddell, to stores and customers," the Bookseller reported. Participating writers include Malorie Blackman, Emma Gannon, Dolly Alderton, Matt Haig, Adam Kay, Michael Rosen and David Nicholls.

Bourne told the Bookseller she has been "blown away by how it's taken off," noting that she came up with the idea November 1 and pulled the campaign together in three days. "This isn't anti-Amazon, it's pro-bookshops really, pro-local. They are incredible pillars of our community. Authors need bookshops as much as bookshops need authors, it's so important for discoverability, for browsing, booksellers organize events--and so many authors have existing amazing relationships with bookshops and individual booksellers."

While chains like Waterstones and WH Smith are included in her #SignForOurBookshops pledge, Bourne has left that decision up to individual authors: "For me, what I'm pledging is to include all bookshops. My life has been just as changed by the incredible Storytellers, Inc in Lancashire, who gave me my first ever book event when I was an unknown debut [writer] but then I owe just as much to the WH Smith at Victoria train station. They're magical places and I want them all to be there after the lockdown."

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The New Zealand Society of Authors, the Publishers Association of New Zealand, and Copyright Licensing New Zealand have launched Creative Rights = Creative Reads, a campaign that aims to help people understand the role of creative rights, how they underpin the success of the book sector and how they contribute to the country's social, economic and cultural wellbeing, Books + Publishing reported.

"Creative rights are the mechanism that ensures authors and publishers own and are able to earn from their work," the organizers said. "The campaign highlights that when we value those rights, the result is more creativity, more local stories, more inspirational ideas, and access to more local knowledge."

CLNZ CEO Paula Browning said, "We believe that helping New Zealanders to understand how creative rights work in the book sector, and the ways in which these rights contribute to Aotearoa, will help foster a meaningful conversation on copyright--and keep the pages turning!"

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Hai An, Vietnam's largest bookstore, has opened in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Inside Retail reported that the five-story store "features contemporary design with an ocean-inspired concept including an art installation in an atrium," as well as "a large open space with an oculus, allowing natural light into the space. Giant walls are painted as an 'ocean floor,' suggesting visitors are entering an 'ocean of knowledge.' "

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One of India's oldest bookshops, Higginbothams in Chennai dates back to the mid-19th century and "has seen so much over the course of its history, but for its current owners this is an unprecedented time for the store," Scroll.in reported. Director Gautam Venkataramani said, "The pandemic has crippled the retail industry. And when one is selling a book that costs approximately Rs300 (about $4), something that you can get on Amazon much cheaper, why will customers want to risk their life? That's the challenge we are faced with. We have to somehow work around this."

While the main bookstore in Chennai is fairly large, the company also has stores in malls, the airport, railway stations and restaurants. "The other segment we're in is schools and colleges, which have still not opened," Venkataramani added. "All our campus stores have been shut. So, literally, the business model of the company has been decimated." Higginbothams is currently focusing more intently on online sales.

With the Chennai flagship store in need of major restoration, Venkataramani observed: "We have to reinvent ourselves. The idea, as things open up, is to make it a destination. In Bangalore, our store looked exactly like the Mount Road one. The renovation has come out extremely well. This is what we had in mind for Chennai, and we were waiting for the Metro work to stop before we could do the heritage touch up, plus you know, getting permission from the Corporation, etc.... We did have plans for doing something for the 175th year of the store this year, but Covid-19 has put paid to all that." --Robert Gray


Amazon Opening New Warehouses in N. Dakota, Missouri

Next year, Amazon plans to open a one million-square-foot warehouse in Fargo, N.Dak., the company's first fulfillment center in the state. Alicia Boler Davis, v-p of global customer fulfillment, said Amazon "leverages its scale for good and makes investments to support communities. We thank the local and state leaders for their support throughout the process, and we look forward to supporting the North Dakota community with great delivery options."

Governor Doug Burgum called the announcement "a testament to North Dakota's attractive business climate, appealing communities and the strong work ethic of our citizens, and we look forward to being part of the company's growth."

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney commented: "Team Fargo worked expeditiously to advance this monumental project, which is a substantial win for our metro area and the entire state of North Dakota."

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Amazon is also opening a one million-square-foot fulfillment center in Republic, Mo., which should open next year. Regarding the new warehouse, Davis said, "We are excited for our future in Missouri and for what this means for our customers across the state as we continue to grow. We'd like to thank the community of Republic and local and state leaders for their strong support in making this project possible."

Governor Mike Parson said Missouri is "proud to see companies like Amazon growing in our state and creating more opportunities for our citizens."


Notes

Pennie Picks: The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has picked The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg (Random House, $28, 9780593133842) as her pick for November. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she writes:

"As a big fan of Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, I'm very excited to say that this month's book buyer's pick, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, revisits the town and some of its residents.

"When Bud Threadgoode returns to his hometown of Whistle Stop, Alabama, he makes some new friends and learns a thing or two about his Aunt Idgie's life and more.

"Full of charm, this novel serves as an homage to Southern, folksy, small-town America of the past with a nod to how things have changes over the decades."


Personnel Changes at S&S Children's Publishing

At Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing:

Chantal Gersch has been promoted to associate publicist for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Atheneum, Margaret K. McElderry, and Beach Lane Books.

Jenny Lu has been promoted to associate publicist for Aladdin, Little Simon, and Simon Spotlight.

Jill Hacking has been promoted to assistant manager, marketing operations and events.

Devin MacDonald has been promoted to senior marketing manager for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Atheneum, Margaret K. McElderry, and Beach Lane Books.

Cassandra Fernandez has been promoted to assistant marketing manager for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Atheneum, Margaret K. McElderry, and Beach Lane Books.

Savannah Breckenridge has been promoted to marketing coordinator for Aladdin, Little Simon, and Simon Spotlight.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Megan Rapinoe on Fresh Air

Today:
Drew Barrymore Show: Wilson Tang, co-author of The Nom Wah Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from 100 Years at New York City's Iconic Dim Sum Restaurant (Ecco, $34.99, 9780062965998).

Fresh Air: Megan Rapinoe, co-author of One Life (Penguin Press, $27, 9781984881168). She will also be on the Tonight Show.

Tomorrow:
Late Night with Seth Meyers: Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of The Water Dancer: A Novel (One World, $18, 9780399590610).

The View: Emmanuel Acho, author of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man (Flatiron, $27.99, 9781250800466). He will also appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live.


Movies: Fear the Worst

Jason Priestley will star in Fear the Worst, an adaptation of Linwood Barclay's novel. The Hollywood Reporter noted that the "former 1990s teen heartthrob of Beverly Hills 90210 fame will also executive produce the indie that kicks off a film development pact between L.A.-based producer Reynolds Entertainment and Marina Cordoni Entertainment."

Barclay will write the screenplay, while Marina Cordoni of MCE will produce and develop the project and Kelley Feldsott Reynolds of Reynolds Entertainment will exec produce. Production is slated for fall 2021 in Canada.



Books & Authors

Awards: Alice Winner

Infinite Cities: A Trilogy of Atlases--San Francisco, New Orleans, New York by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and Rebecca Snedeker (University of California Press) has won the $25,000 Alice Award, sponsored by Furthermore grants in publishing, a J.M. Kaplan Fund program, and honoring "a book that represents excellence in all aspects of the work, from idea to design to quality of production." The public is invited to join the virtual Alice award event program, which will be streamed through the Strand Book Store on Monday, November 16. For more information about the event, click here.


Book Review

Review: Love, Kurt: The Vonnegut Love Letters, 1941-1945

Love, Kurt: The Vonnegut Love Letters, 1941-1945 by Kurt Vonnegut, Edith Vonnegut, editor (Random House, $35 hardcover, 240p., 9780593133019, December 1, 2020)

While browsing through the contents of her mother's attic, Edith Vonnegut made a remarkable discovery in the form of a white gift box. Inside this battered vessel she found 226 love letters written by her father, Kurt Vonnegut, to her mother, Jane Marie Cox, between 1941 and 1945.

At 19, the couple met at a dance at the Woodstock Country Club in Indianapolis and, from Kurt's letters, they seemed to form a swift and strong connection. Kurt was studying engineering at Cornell, always floating on the edge of academic probation; Jane studied literature at Swarthmore devotedly. Their letters--some typewritten, some written in pencil, many composed in some combination of the two with Kurt's drawings adorning the margins--represent not only a young love developing in the precarity of wartime, but the pure, imaginative work of a young writer who had yet to discover the extent of his talent.

Because the letters that make up this collection are written by Kurt to Jane, there is a natural imbalance in the narrative. Readers have access to Kurt's perspective, while Jane's can be interpreted only through Kurt's often meandering responses. But, as Edith Vonnegut points out in one of her occasional asides, Kurt's letters outnumbered Jane's six to one. She characterizes her father as the "primary pursuer." He often addresses her as "wife" and asks her to kiss sections of his letters to return to him. He drafts their future family crest, which features not just their names but a frothing mug of beer. He writes to her while on deployment, "I saw the Northern Lights for the first time in my life tonight. It was pretty much like kissing you." Kurt's letters contain no shortage of treacly proclamations of love. But they are pristine, wholesome expressions of youth communicated with the whole force of his being. His dexterity with language, his endlessly creative ways of conveying his obsession were early signs of his phenomenal talent.

In December 1944, Kurt was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and held as a POW in a Dresden slaughterhouse. His release in May 1945 marked a crucial change in his relationship with Jane. They married that September, and their remaining letters, written from Fort Riley, where Kurt was finishing his army obligations, reveal a mutual intimacy hard to find in earlier correspondence. Kurt's letters, once filled with poems, drawings and pleas designed solely to win the love of Jane, become the means by which Jane reads and edits Kurt's earliest stories. --Emma Levy, writer

Shelf Talker: The intimate love letters that fill Love, Kurt feature the imaginative and unmistakable literary voice of Kurt Vonnegut decades before his first literary success.


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