Shelf Awareness for Friday, April 16, 2021

Yen Press: The God of Nishi-Yuigahama Station by Takeshi Murase, Translated by Guiseppe Di Martino

Peachtree Publishers: Erno Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, Illustrated by Kara Kramer

Beacon Press: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Inkshares: Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Tundra Books: On a Mushroom Day by Chris Baker, Illustrated by Alexandria Finkeldey

Simon & Schuster: Register for the Simon & Schuster Fall Preview!

St. Martin's Press: Sacrificial Animals by Kailee Pedersen


Bookstore Sales Down 22.2% in February

In February, marking the first full year of data reflecting public health measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, bookstore sales dropped 22.2%, to $446 million, compared to February 2020, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates. For the year to date, bookstore sales dropped 18.7%, to $1.243 billion.

Between May, when bookstore sales plummeted 59.9%, and November, bookstore sales dropped in a range between 21.5% and 35.4%. In December, the drop of 15.3% was an improvement, and January's 16.6% drop continued this trend. The February figure of a 22.2% drop is a slight shift downward.

Total retail sales in February rose 2.7%, to $493.1 billion. So far this year, total retail sales have risen 5.3%, to $1.01 trillion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books." The Bureau also added this unusual caution concerning the effect of Covid-19: "The Census Bureau continues to monitor response and data quality and has determined that estimates in this release meet publication standards."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

For Sale: Mrs. Dalloway's in Berkeley, Calif.

After 17 years at the helm, co-owners Marion Abbott and Ann Leyhe have put Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts Bookstore in Berkeley, Calif., up for sale.

"It was a personal decision for both of us," Leyhe said. "We've had a great run and now it's time for a new generation of booksellers to take over."

"This is not a fire sale," Abbott added. "We not only survived the pandemic, but in many ways we've come back stronger than before."

They founded the bookstore in 2004 and over the years built a vibrant events program and strong partnerships with local schools and nonprofit organizations in Berkeley. In 2009, after Elmwood Pharmacy & Ozzie's Soda Fountain closed, the bookstore expanded into the space next door, nearly doubling in square footage. Abbott and Leyhe put that space to use expanding the children's department and nonfiction selections.

Leyhe noted that Mrs. Dalloway's has long put a big emphasis on nonbook items and gifts. Those sidelines are related to nature, literature and gardening and include things like artwork, table linens, ceramics, gardening tools, and artisanal teas and jams.

Interested parties can learn more at or e-mail

GLOW: Torrey House Press: Life After Dead Pool: Lake Powell's Last Days and the Rebirth of the Colorado River by Zak Podmore

International Update: ABA Hybrid Conference in Melbourne, Lit Prize Scammers

Registration has opened for the 97th annual Australian Booksellers Association Conference and Publisher Presentations, a hybrid event to be held June 20-21 (conference) and June 22 (presentations) in person and online from the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne.  

Noting that this will be the first such event to have booksellers in attendance in two years, the ABA wrote: "Let's celebrate our surviving and thriving with an event that brings booksellers together to discuss where we go from here. We can learn from each other about how to navigate the new world we live in, and to capitalize on the surge in consumers' appetite for books. We will, as always, bring you some fantastic authors both established and new, and seek to challenge ourselves to be better booksellers and citizens."


Literary prize scammers are on the loose. The Rathbones Folio prize revealed that £30,000 (about $41,315) in prize money was paid to scammers posing as the author Valeria Luiselli, who won the award in 2020 for Lost Children Archive. Citing a Bookseller article on publisher-related cyber scams, the Guardian reported that "sophisticated cyber-criminals" posing as the author requested that the payment be made through PayPal.

Minna Fry, the prize's executive director, said that "the police were informed at the time, as were key industry colleagues.... Our winner Valeria Luiselli was awarded her prize money in full, and the lost funds were absorbed by cost savings elsewhere." She added that the prize's sponsor, Rathbone Investment Management, has "supported us through this incident and helped us to put in place additional safeguarding measures."

In November, the £50,000 (about $68,860) Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction was also targeted, but no funds were paid. "Someone e-mailed pretending to be the 2020 winner Craig Brown and asked us to pay the prize money via PayPal," a spokesperson said. "It was very obviously a hoax as the tone of the e-mail was unlike Craig." The Forward prizes for poetry were also targeted unsuccessfully after the winners were announced in October. 


Bookseller moment: Posted on Facebook yesterday by Canadian bookseller Russell Books, Victoria, B.C.: "Happy Thursday! We hope everyone gets a chance to bask in this beautiful spring sunshine with a good book."

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Covid Anthology Alone Together Raises $40,000 for Binc 

Central Avenue Publishing is donating $20,000, all profits thus far from sales of Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of Covid-19, edited by Jennifer Haupt, to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Independent Publishers Group, which waived its distribution fee for the anthology, is also donating $20,000 to Binc, for a total of $40,000.

"This collection of essays, poems, and interviews was a huge act of faith," said Haupt, who served as editor and curator. "I called this book my lovely monster because I didn't have any preconceived ideas of how the essays, poems, and interviews about the first few months of the pandemic would come together. I trusted the contributing authors, my publisher trusted me--and then readers were incredibly receptive to how it came together."

Michelle Halket, publisher, Central Avenue Publishing, commented: "Alone Together has been a labor of love for so many and I am proud to be able to make this donation on their behalf. Binc plays a crucial role in supporting independent bookstore owners and their employees, and keeping the doors of these community hubs open when we need them most."

Richard Williams, v-p of publisher development for IPG, added: "IPG is tremendously proud of the efforts of Jennifer Haupt, Central Avenue Publishing, and all the contributing writers on this project. For 50 years, we've proudly had the word 'independent' in our name, so it's always a pleasure when we're able to give back to our industry and support fellow independent businesses."

Expressing gratitude to everyone involved in the anthology project, Binc's executive director Pamela French said, "This donation of not only funds, but also time, skills, and talent will truly change lives. The generosity of this community, which we see daily, is what has enabled Binc to help book people in need in an extraordinary way this past year and what will allow us to continue that support in the future."

Obituary Note: Constance C. Greene

Constance C. Greene

Constance C. Greene, the prolific author of children's books, died on April 7. She was 96.

Among her many books, she is best known for A Girl Called Al, an ALA Notable Book that reviewers called "a warm, funny, utterly real" story about the friendship between two girls in a New York City apartment building. She also wrote Isabelle the Itch and Beat the Turtle Drum, a story about the death of the older of two sisters and based on her own childhood. It was made into an ABC Afterschool Special. Greene always said she knew she was fortunate to be writing during the years when the National Arts Foundation was as supportive of children's books as it was. With a sharp, unsentimental sense of humor, she wrote with "frankness and humor," as a review of Leo the Lioness said. She had an ear for dialogue and identified with the frustrations and headache of adolescents. A New York Times Book Review of Leo the Lioness said, "the author, funny and tender in turn, has a way of picturing human fragilities without malice or savagery."


Image of the Day: Sears Signing

This week, author Michael Sears ventured from his Long Island home to visit the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City to sign copies of his latest financial thriller, Tower of Babel (Soho Crime). On Wednesday, April 21, Sears will join fellow New York author Tim O'Mara for a virtual event with the Mysterious Bookshop, wrapping up a busy month of virtual book touring.

Personnel Changes at Sourcebooks

At Sourcebooks:

Amy Jackson has joined the company as marketing associate.

Alexandra Derdall has joined the company as digital marketing associate.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Louise Erdrich on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Louise Erdrich, author of The Night Watchman (Harper Perennial, $18, 9780062671196).

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Rosa Brooks, author of Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City (Penguin Press, $28, 9780525557852).

CBS This Morning Saturday: Paul Theroux, author of Under the Wave at Waimea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 9780358446286).

Movies: The Days of Abandonment

Natalie Portman is set to star in and executive produce HBO Films' The Days of Abandonment, based on Elena Ferrante's bestselling novel. Deadline reported that the film, "which is currently in pre-production, hails from writer-director Maggie Betts (Novitiate), Portman and her MountainA Films, Maven Screen Media, Len Amato's Crash & Salvage and Fandango." Ferrante also serves as an executive producer.

Books & Authors

Awards: Reading the West, Griffin Poetry Shortlists

Shortlists have been released in nine categories for the annual Reading the West Book Awards, sponsored by the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association to "celebrate the rich variety of writing in and about this region, and reflect the extraordinary diversity of the reading public." Check out the complete list of finalists here. Winners will be announced May 25 at a live virtual event.


The Griffin Trust has released this year's international and Canadian shortlists for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Two winners will be named June 23, each receiving C$65,000 (about US$51,920), while the other finalists will each be awarded C$10,000 (about US$7,990). The shortlisted Griffin titles are:

Obit by Victoria Chang
Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort 
Underworld Lit by Srikanth Reddy
My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi, translated from the Chinese written by Yi Lei

The East Side of It All by Joseph Dandurand 
The Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin 
Pluviophile by Yusuf Saadi 

Reading with... Lauren Hough

photo: Karl Poss IV

Lauren Hough was born in Germany and raised in seven countries and West Texas. She's been an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a green-aproned barista, a bartender, a livery driver and, for a time, a cable guy. Her work has appeared in Granta, the Wrath-Bearing Tree, the Guardian and HuffPost. She lives in Austin, Tex. Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing: Essays (Vintage, April 13, 2021) is her first book.

On your nightstand now:

I've been slowly reading Icebound by Andrea Pitzer. There's something comforting in reading about people having a worse year than we are. At least we're not being stalked by polar bears. I've been reading back through Agatha Christie's novels trying to find the one I left behind, half-finished, in Munich. I'm on The Secret of Chimneys. It's not the one. But I remember nothing about the one I was reading. I'll know when I get to it. And I'm reading Taylor Stevens's The Vessel. I like being lost in several books at once, and I always have one thriller in the mix. If I read other books in between chapters, I can make them last longer.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My first love was Ramona Quimby, Age 8, the hero of misunderstood girls everywhere. My stepdad used to blame my naughtiness on that book, and I thought, well, it figures she'd get blamed for that, too. My grandma gave me a volume of Sherlock Holmes, and that was my favorite for as long as it lasted. I was obsessed with White Fang because I was convinced I, too, could tame a wolf, if I could only meet a wolf. Later on, it was On the Road, and I thought that was the greatest book ever written, probably because it was filthy and full of drugs.

Your top five authors:

I think Mary Karr was the first memoirist I ever read. She turned the truth into an artform. Zadie Smith blows me away every time. We're all down here just hacking away, and she's on another plane. I love Toni Morrison more than I have words to express. There was a time when Toni Morrison inspirational quotes were all the rage on Instagram, and I wondered if I was reading a different Toni Morrison. Kurt Vonnegut made me understand narrative and humor in an entirely new way. Considering I have a passage from "De Profundis" tattooed on my arm, I'd have to include Oscar Wilde.

Book you've faked reading:

Infinite Jest. I tried to read it. I tried so hard. Then I realized I don't have to. It's a lot easier to fake having read it than deal with an evangelist who needs you to read it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. The book haunts me. Not only as a reader, but as a writer. It's poetic and strange and beautiful, and completely indescribable. It's everything a novel should be.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. That cover's wild. You see something new every time you look at it. I remember passing it on the shelf and going back to pick it up. It needs to be picked up.

Book you hid from your parents:

I definitely hid Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. My mom always encouraged reading, but somehow I knew I wasn't supposed to be reading that one (because it was gay).

Book that changed your life:

I read Kitchen Confidential when I was a bartender, kept it stashed under the bar and would read it before customers showed up. Felt like the first time I'd read something by a real person who talked like me, working a job I could relate to.

Favorite line from a book:

Man, that's a tough one. Right now, "We're each of us alone to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?" Ursula Le Guin, from The Wind's Twelve Quarters. I'm asked often these days, why I write. I think that's why anyone writes, we're holding our hands out in the dark.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis: I find something new each time I pick it up.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing: It's medicinal.

Changeling by Sandra Newman: It's out of print, but I found one on eBay and I'm never letting it go.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: My grandmother gave me this copy, and I think I love it more every time I read it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. My English teacher loaned me her copy, and I never gave it back. Still got an A. But I'll never part with it except to return it.

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

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I want to feel that again, the moment you meet the real Amy, the "how the f**k did she do that?"

Book Review

Review: Second Place

Second Place by Rachel Cusk (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 hardcover, 192p., 9780374279226, May 4, 2021)

With her Outline trilogy (Transit; Kudos), Rachel Cusk confirmed her status as a thoughtful, provocative novelist, one that appears even more secure with the publication of Second Place, a psychological novel that's a serious exploration of themes that include female identity and the meaning of art.

The titular location refers to a cottage the narrator, identified only as M, and her second husband, Tony, have built on reclaimed wasteland adjacent the isolated coastal marsh where they live. Her plan is to use the dwelling as a home for "the higher things, or so I thought them, that I had come to care about one way or another in my life." To further that goal, M impetuously decides to extend an invitation to an artist named L, whose work, she says, "picked me up off the street and put me on the path to a different understanding of life" when she first encountered it on a visit to a Paris museum some 15 years earlier.  

There's nothing casual about M's invitation. A writer whose own output has been modest, she's dogged by a lifelong identity crisis. After L initially accepts, and then rejects M's hospitality, he arrives with Brett, a much younger woman whose relationship to him is ambiguous, and forces M's daughter, Justine, and her boyfriend, Kurt--who have moved into the home after losing their jobs due to something that sounds like the coronavirus pandemic--to vacate the property.

In an unbroken monologue delivered to a listener identified only as Jeffers, M pours out the story of L's disturbing visit. Far more interesting than the novel's relatively modest external action is the stream-of-consciousness coursing through M's head. It's an unsparing, at times devastating portrait of one middle-aged woman's profoundly damaged self-image and her failed dreams.

Cusk meticulously charts the rising tension between L and M, ratcheting up the suspense as the two come into a conflict that L, an enigmatic man "without any fibre of morality or duty," seems to have sought from the beginning and that involves a shocking amount of asymmetric psychological warfare. M watches helplessly as L wields his power to "cast me into doubt and to expose in myself what was otherwise shrouded over," even as she recognizes how he "drew me with the cruelty of his rightness closer to the truth." Cusk is a patient, elegant writer, in some respects like her creation M, who admits she needs to "get at the truth of a thing and dig and dig until it is dragged painfully to light." Second Place is the admirable product of that determination. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: In this meticulous and provocative psychological novel, a troubled woman's encounter with a powerful artist sparks a profound crisis.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: My 'Lockdown Read'--Leonard and Hungry Paul

During the BeforeTimes, I was given an ARC of a debut novel at the 2020 ABA Winter Institute in Baltimore. Such things happened then. The book, Leonard and Hungry Paul (Melville House), was by an Irish author and musician named Rónán Hession. And even though I didn't read it until the plague had fully engulfed us, this funny, touching story about people living deceptively "ordinary" lives played a significant role in sustaining me through a tough year. The paperback edition will be released next month. I thought you should know.

Hession described his novel to me recently as "two gentle young men who try to find the balance between engaging with the world and becoming overwhelmed by it. It is a novel about friendship, family, kindness and, above all, the contributions quiet people make to society. Leonard and Hungry Paul is not a novel that promotes unthinking positivity--as Leonard observes: 'the true tale of history is worryingly short of comeuppance.' Life has a habit of being unfair, and people these days are in no mood to pretend otherwise. However, at a time when so much is changing, it's easy to overlook what is not changing. I think the book's appeal lies not just in providing a safe reading harbor in troubled times, but also in reminding readers of the things in life that have perennial value."

Melville House co-publisher Dennis Johnson recalled that although last year's hardcover publication stumbled at the gate, the book gradually experienced what he described as "a rather startling revival due entirely to handselling by indie booksellers. From the start, the book seemed like my kind of novel--writing-wise, it's a lesson in the powers of understatement and humor, and, subject-wise, it's about people whose lives revolve around the effort to care for each other and appreciate life itself as best they can. That overall simplicity makes for a surprisingly powerful impact that stuck with me. It seems all the more so now, a year into the plague--I can certainly understand why several bookseller pals wrote to tell me it was a book they felt a compulsion to handsell--when they were open, that is. I'm grateful to them all for helping us keep the book alive through desperate times. I like to think it helped them too." 

Many indie booksellers have sent the publisher unsolicited testimonials, and Johnson praised Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis., for his devotion to the novel. The store has sold more than 100 HC copies.

"I will say that my work handselling Leonard is not done--I hope to sell at least another 100," Goldin noted, adding: "Every so often I get a customer who gets a little bogged down in the beginning. I have to tell them to keep going. And while our newspaper's book and arts editor just liked it, another person at the Journal Sentinel became a raving fan, as they used to say in the business book world. That's the thing about this book--it has a very high hit rate when you recommend it. Once you get your first people coming back and thanking you, it's addictive. And the thing is, one of the easiest ways to sell it is to tell people how much other people like it. And I'd feel bad about that if it weren't true."

Hession understands and appreciates this indie support. He recalled that before becoming a writer, as a musician and part of the underground music scene in Dublin for 20 years, "it was my responsibility to hawk around albums to independent music shops and build relationships with the people who worked there.... That experience has shaped my attitude to independent bookstores both as a reader and writer. I have seen with music that we can't take these stores for granted and that without them, there is no path to readers for independent--and independently-minded--publishers and writers. 

"I think it's interesting that readers look to independent booksellers as tastemakers. They come into the store in a panic and say: 'It's my turn to pick something for my book club, help me!' and will leave with an armful of books. That's something that goes beyond marketing or sales and into plain old passion. It's the evangelism of the enthusiast.... The book has found its way to readers through handselling and personal recommendations. I think readers enjoy the sense of discovery in finding a book that way."

The novel, which is being honored as this year's One Dublin One Book pick, also garnered passionate support from librarians. On April 22, a conversation between Nancy Pearl and Hession will be hosted by the Seattle Public Library. Stesha Brandon, SPL's literature and humanities program manager, said: "Leonard and Hungry Paul first came to my attention last year when our colleagues in Dublin UNESCO City of Literature invited Seattle to partner on a program with Ronan. I immediately put the book on hold at the library and was looking forward to reading it.... Once I got my hands on a copy, I really enjoyed it. I was struck by how the characters are allowed the space to be themselves. There are some elements to them (as to all of us) that could be mocked or teased. But the narrator reports on their lives without value judgements, which allows the reader to do that too. Such a quiet and beautiful book."

The right book at the right time. "The easiest question to handle is when people ask me how Leonard and Hungry Paul would get on during the pandemic and the restrictions," Hession observed. "Quite simply, the answer is that they would be the same as always." --Robert Gray

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