Shelf Awareness for Thursday, April 1, 2021

Hanover Square Press: Before the Coffee Gets Cold series by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Del Rey Books: The Book of Elsewhere by Keeanu Reeves and China Miéville

St. Martin's Press: You'll Never Believe Me: A Life of Lies, Second Tries, and Other Stuff I Should Only Tell My Therapist by St. Martin's Press

Watkins Publishing: A Feminist's Guide to ADHD: How Women Can Thrive and Find Focus in a World Built for Men by Janina Maschke

Soho Teen: Only for the Holidays by Abiola Bello

W. W. Norton & Company: Still Life by Katherine Packert Burke

Shadow Mountain: A Kingdom to Claim by Sian Ann Bessey

For Fun

New Head, Mission for Banned Books Week

Sean Spicer, press secretary at the beginning of the Trump administration, held an impromptu press conference late yesterday to announce that, to his surprise, he's been appointed executive director of Banned Books Week, an event held every September that usually highlights titles censored by people and groups Spicer is part of.

Since his White House departure, Spicer has written a memoir and promoted it at BookExpo, and competed on Dancing with the Stars, surviving eight weeks before being voted off.

"Hey, I'm as shocked as you," he said. Zooming on his iPhone with Shelf Awareness from his basement man cave ("the bunker," as he called it) and pointing to his pandemic stay-at-home attire, which included pajama bottoms. "See, I didn't have time to get dressed up properly."

Spicer attributed his appointment to "someone's warped sense of diversity," but emphasized that he welcomes the challenge and intends to hold the post longer than he did his position as White House press secretary. He also made claims to being less crazy than the crazy wing of the Republican Party, noting, "Sean's an anagram for sane!"

"I've got many plans," he continued excitedly. "More plans than the previous director. Many more plans than any previous director. Look at the pictures! Look at the social media hittings!"

Among those plans, the most striking is changing the name of Banned Books Week to Ban Books Week. "It's in the spirit of the times," he explained. "Censoring books is an area where many people in our divided country can find common ground."

He cited J.K. Rowling as just one example of this. "I hear she's being attacked from the left for reasons I don't quite get, but that's cool," he said. "We on the right have long disliked her for promoting witchcraft and devil worship. As everyone should know by now, we're totally against witchcraft, and although we do engage in devil worship, it's limited to the most recent former president. Anyway, it's great to wave a wand and make Harry Potter vanish from bookshelves."

Ban Books Week will now include lists of titles to avoid stocking as well as book clubs that don't read banned books, Spicer continued. "People can go straight to the booze and not pretend they've read the assigned books." He added that a potential advantage of the new book club approach is "it'll probably attract a lot more men than the usual book club format."

W. W. Norton & Company: Still Life by Katherine Packert Burke

Jeff Bezos on Reinventing Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos may be stepping back from day-to-day operations at Amazon, but he plans to keep busy--perhaps busier than ever. Some 25 years after founding Amazon, he told Shelf Awareness in an exclusive interview, he misses the excitement of being an entrepreneur just starting out. "Over the years, the job changed so much for me," he said. "We became so big and so dominant that it ceased to be challenging. I mean we could kill industries at will." He paused. "I never wanted to be emperor of the world." He then guffawed, adding, "Well maybe not."

In any case, he said one of his big projects now is to re-create the excitement of the early days by founding a new company independent of Amazon. He's not sure what the focus of the venture will be, but he does have strong ideas about how to start out.

"I'm definitely going for the Big Tech-Amazon origin story," he explained. But already he's encountered some bumps in the road. For one, he said that he wants to write the business plan on his laptop while being driven from Texas to Seattle. This time, however, his ex-wife will not be driving, and he's not sure that he will be inspired in the same way by the team of drivers and the accompanying convoy of security and communications vehicles.

In the same way, he's not sure how to configure the initial mandatory garage office. The problem: his 45-bay Seattle garage is full of his collection of cars. "I don't know which to move and where to move them," he lamented. "Do I get rid of the $3 million Ferrari Pininfarina Sergio or the $3.4 million Bugatti Veyron Mansory or the $4 million W Motors Lykan Hypersport or the $4.8 million Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita or the $5 million Lamborghini Veneno??? You get the picture! It's so frustrating!"

Bezos did say he is looking forward to making the obligatory investment pitch to venture capital firms. "At least now my name's known," he said with a chortle. "And my collateral of $180 billion shouldn't hurt either!"

Despite his entrepreneurial plans, Bezos continues to be deeply involved in some aspects of Amazon: he's leading the charge for what he calls "Right to Work Prime," a campaign that includes an effort to strip the word union from daily life. "It's insidious, and it's everywhere" he said, citing the European Union, the Union side in the Civil War, the Soviet Union, the State of the Union Address, the Union Theological Seminary. "Even Union Stations in D.C. and L.A.!" he added with some annoyance.

In a similar vein, Bezos is heading development of a new personnel program in case workers in Bessemer, Ala., vote to be represented by a union. The program will organize a kind of elite team at the Bessemer warehouse whose main function will be to uphold Amazon morale and principles. With the name Staff Controlled by Amazon Bull S**t, or SCABS, the program will be expanded as needed.

GLOW: Sourcebooks Landmark: Remember You Will Die by Eden Robins

ABA Mulls New National Book Trade Show

In the rush to fill the void created by the cancellation of BookExpo by Reed Exhibitions late last year, the American Booksellers Association is exploring the possibility of creating a national book conference and trade show, Shelf Awareness has learned.

According to sources close to the association, the board and staff are considering a multi-day event that would include a significant amount of educational programming for booksellers and the group's own annual meeting. The event would move around the country, with the idea that it would draw booksellers from different regions who prefer not to travel long distances for such events. The expectation is that publishers, distributors and wholesalers will exhibit at a show floor during the event to reach those booksellers, and other organizations will be encouraged to hold concurrent programs. The event would thus create what so many people say they miss about BookExpo: the sense of community in the book world and the chance meetings that foster networking and can lead to unexpected business deals and lifelong friendships.

The event would be called simply "the ABA" and take place on or near Memorial Day weekend. The ultimate goal, sources say, is to sell the show to Reed Exhibitions for $35 million.

Word is that the ABA has reached out to Eileen Dengler, executive director of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association who once headed an apparently similar show, to head the new venture. The association wants to start small, beginning with an inaugural offering in the basement of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Programming at the new event, one of the first to be held in person after many pandemic-related cancellations of book industry meetings, would feature an opening session called "the Hugathon" (with copious amounts of Kleenex), where booksellers and others can greet each other again for the first time in way too long.

TikTok Shock!: Daunt's #BookTok

In an effort to overcome what he calls "our Achilles heel"--trouble reaching young readers--Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt has launched his own TikTok channel. On it, he will champion books in the popular style of young women, who under the hashtag #BookTok, recommend and sometimes angrily trash books, show themselves reading, and "sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending," as the New York Times recently put it.

Already the bookstore chain has set up displays of #BookTok titles and found it drives sales more than any other social media format, often "tens of thousands of copies a month," as B&N director of books Shannon DeVito told the Times.

For his #BookTok channel videos, which usually last less than a minute and include much time-lapse photography, Daunt will use the handle @Bookie, which reflects, he said, "the gamble I'm making here that I won't appear to be a fool." He's an avid reader, with strong opinions on everything from the cover image and title choice to price and story. So that part won't be difficult, he continued. "But to sob and tremble and scream, well, it might work if I can channel my feelings about stooping to this level just to sell more books."


Among other sales and marketing changes being considered at B&N is one taken from the Waterstones experience: brand name punctuation. "Dropping the apostrophe from Waterstone's was key in the company's turnaround," said Daunt, who continues as managing director of Waterstones. "Customers always had trouble figuring out which side of the 's' to put the apostrophe on--and often just omitted it anyway! Barnes & Noble has a similar problem: the daunting ampersand. Surveys find that 99% of our customers call it 'the and-thing symbol whatever.' " As a result, the company is moving toward renaming itself BarnesNoble, following in the bookworld tradition of HarperCollins and CliffNotes, AmongOthers. to Launch 'JustBrowsing' Option plans to launch JustBrowsing, a new option for bookstore patrons who, before the Covid-19 pandemic closed off access to bookshop sales floors, often spent hours talking with booksellers and other patrons, but seldom purchased anything. Technical details on how the new offering will work are not available yet, though the company said bookstores will have the ability to add a chat button to their pages.

"We are always looking for new opportunities to make Bookshop relevant as an alternative for our indie bookstore partners, and this has been especially true during these challenging times," said Bookshop founder and CEO Andy Hunter. "With the pandemic having forced so many booksellers to close or restrict access to their brick-and-mortar locations, an underserved segment of their customer base was left without a place to spend free time. JustBrowsing should help to fill that need."

"Every bookseller I know has stories about these folks," said a California bookstore owner who requested anonymity in order to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. "Some of them showed up several times a week. Our bookshop wasn't just their third place; it was their third, fourth and fifth place. And they're not showrooming us to buy from Amazon. They just don't buy, period, though they can spend hours reading in our comfy chairs and chatting up my staff and customers. Oddly enough, they love to have us handsell titles to them, though the buying aspect of these conversations seems to elude them. But we're here to serve all our customers, so for now it's nice to see that is thinking about the whole bookstore experience."

Amazon Adding Artemis Warehouse

Amazon has announced plans to build the company's first fulfillment center on the Moon, at Artemis Base Camp. While the company acknowledges it's still early, population-wise, for a shipping center on the moon to be necessary, Amazon can use the one million-square-foot location meanwhile to launch packages to the Earth, via a space laser. Fulfillment center workers will be contracted through the United States Space Force.

Alicia Boler Davis, Amazon v-p of interglobal customer fulfillment, said: "We appreciate the leaders who have supported Amazon's entrance to the Moon and we look forward to providing great job opportunities and an exceptional customer experience."

Artemis Base commander Mark R. Naird noted that "Amazon's presence demonstrates to industry leaders around the globe that the Moon has what it takes for companies like Amazon to remain competitive and efficiently reach their consumers from our attractive location."

In 2017, former Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos asked NASA to back an Amazon-like shipment service, through his company Blue Origin, that would deliver gear for experiments, cargo and habitats, "helping to enable future human settlement of the moon"--the preliminary step to building a full-fledged fulfillment center.

Cool Idea of the Day: Socially Distant Meals with Iconic Literary Figures

Riley's Bookstore Café, Hudson, N.Y., is currently featuring a real-time, Covid-safe option for customers who have often pondered the eternal book lover's question: "If you could have dinner with any three writers in history, who would you choose?"

The initiative was inspired by a recent partnership between Brooklyn's Peter Luger Steak House and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum to encourage social distancing by filling "empty seats with A-Listers and offer patrons an unforgettable dining experience."

Riley's is giving patrons the option of dining with their favorite literary figures, ranging from Mark Twain to Jane Austen to Joyce Carol Oates and many more. A local theater and arts group has supplied constumes and makeup for the mannequins, which were borrowed from a now closed upscale fashion store. When placing a reservation, customers select their preferred dinner companions from a supplemental menu, though they will still have to bring their own conversations (BYOC).

Bookstore Pet: Iggy

Escapade Books in West Palm Beach, Fla., shared a photo of new bookstore pet Iggy. Owner Mary Margaret Miller explained, "He wandered into the storeroom one day and pooped on a used copy of Sean Hannity's Live Free or Die. We liked his literary taste so we decided to let him stay. Customers are a little startled at first, but now they shriek with joy (we assume) when he crawls out from his den beneath the Politics section."

Movies: Beyond Nomadland: The Workampers Strike Back

Frances McDormand will star in and produce Beyond Nomadland: The Workampers Strike Back, a surprise sequel to the award-winning film Nomadland. The new project, described as Norma Rae meets The Hunger Games, was inspired by the recent Book Workers Day of Solidarity with Amazon workers organizing to form a union in Bessemer, Ala., as well as Raven Book Store owner Danny Caine's manifesto How to Resist Amazon and Why.

McDormand said her sympathies were fully with Amazon's workers, and she wanted to more deeply explore their issues through the new film, which is currently in early development stages as a Joel and Ethan Coen project.

McDormand as Fern in Nomadland. 
(photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The movie is also in part a response to questions raised regarding Nomadland's relatively humane depiction of Amazon fulfillment center working conditions, which contrasted markedly with the book from which it was adapted, Jessica Bruder's Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Beyond Nomadland will explore these issues with a Coen brothers twist. In a brief statement, the Coens said: "We hope to perform a little cinematic surgery on Jeff Bezos's dark heart."

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