Also published on this date: Thursday, October 7, 2021: Maximum Shelf: The Violin Conspiracy

Shelf Awareness for Thursday, October 7, 2021


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima

Take a Storytime Adventure into the World of Jessie Sima

News

Nobel Literature Prize Awarded to Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abdulrazak Gurnah

Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, who lives in England, has won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy cited Gurnah for "his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents."

Gurnah is the author of 10 novels and a range of short stories. Among his novels, Paradise was shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prizes; By the Sea was longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Desertion was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. Several of his recent titles are available in the U.S. from Bloomsbury USA, including The Last Gift (reviewed by Shelf Awareness in 2014).

Until his recent retirement, Gurnah was Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury, focusing on writers such as Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Salman Rushdie.

Gurnah was born on the island of Zanzibar in 1948, which after independence from Britain in 1963 underwent a revolution and unification with Tanganyika to become Tanzania. During the revolution, citizens of Arab origin were persecuted, and Gurnah fled to Britain.

"The theme of the refugee's disruption runs throughout his work," the Swedish Academy wrote. "He began writing as a 21-year-old in English exile, and even though Swahili was his first language, English became his literary tool. He has said that in Zanzibar, his access to literature in Swahili was virtually nil and his earliest writing could not strictly be counted as literature. Arabic and Persian poetry, especially The Arabian Nights, were an early and significant wellspring for him, as were the Quran's surahs. But the English-language tradition, from Shakespeare to V. S. Naipaul, would especially mark his work. That said, it must be stressed that he consciously breaks with convention, upending the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations....

"In all his work, Gurnah has striven to avoid the ubiquitous nostalgia for a more pristine pre-colonial Africa. His own background is a culturally diversified island in the Indian Ocean, with a history of slave trade and various forms of oppression under a number of colonial powers--Portuguese, Indian, Arab, German and British--and with trade connections with the entire world. Zanzibar was a cosmopolitan society before globalisation....

"Gurnah's dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification are striking. This can make him bleak and uncompromising, at the same time as he follows the fates of individuals with great compassion and unbending commitment. His novels recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world. In Gurnah's literary universe, everything is shifting--memories, names, identities. This is probably because his project cannot reach completion in any definitive sense. An unending exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all his books, and equally prominent now, in Afterlives, as when he began writing as a 21-year-old refugee."


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima


ABA News: Membership Grows; $3 Million IndieCommerce Investment

 

Membership in the American Booksellers Association has increased significantly in the past year, and the board has taken measures to redefine membership eligibility, emphasize the importance of bookstore staff and bolster its e-commerce offerings. The changes were outlined in a message to members from board president Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., via Bookselling This Week.

Among the points Graham made:

Membership growth: ABA members now include 2,496 locations and 1,910 companies, up 18.9% and 12.3%, respectively, from the May numbers of 2,100 locations and 1,701 companies. As of this year, the ABA counts only dues-paying members and no longer counts stores whose dues have elapsed for a year or two.

Membership definitions: Under proposed bylaw changes, the ABA is expanding its requirements for store membership, saying that retailers with 50% of their sales consisting of "books and/or book media" are eligible to be general members, including online-only retailers whose inventory is at least 50% new books. Core members must have 50% of inventory consisting of new books and can be "traditional bookstores, pop-up bookstores, mobile stores, book event businesses, and other non-traditional bookselling businesses that are primarily conducted in the physical (as opposed to digital) world."

Bradley Graham, ABA Board president

Bookstore staff: The board is highlighting the value and concerns of bookstore staff. It is adding sentences to its end policies saying that it will work to ensure member stores "understand that the welfare of all booksellers is essential to sustainability" and that "all booksellers have the necessary resources to enable them to succeed." Graham commented: "More must be done in recognition of the vital role played by bookstore staff in the bookselling ecosystem, but the Board considers this change in the Ends Policies a first step."

E-commerce: The association's increased investment in IndieCommerce, mentioned at regional annual meetings by CEO Allison Hill, is a $3 million addition "to an upgrade already underway," an amount that, "thanks to the recent growth of ABA's investment portfolio, [is] financially feasible for the Association and, the directors believe, a good investment in the future." As Graham noted, e-commerce has become ever more significant during the pandemic and will continue to grow, and "bookstores will need significant improvement and assistance in this critical technological area."

Free Expression: Reflecting some tension between traditional definitions of free expression that aim to protect a range of titles and more recent definitions that exclude titles offensive to some groups and people, particularly on the basis of antiracism, equity, access and representation, the board, "recognizing the importance that many member stores continue to place on receiving help from the ABA if their own freedoms are threatened... decided last month to amend the Ends Policies with a sentence ensuring stores 'have the resources in support of their right to freedom of expression.' "

Investing criteria: The board is asking the managers of its significant investment portfolio "to base investments on valuations and earnings growth and to also consider company performance with regard to socially responsible investing criteria." Graham noted that this decision "was based not just on values. It also reflects a financial judgment that abiding by such criteria will be critical to the sustainability of bookstores."

Social justice: After adding a phrase to its ends policies in January advocating for "a commitment to antiracism, inclusion, representation, and diversity," the board has dropped the words "inclusion" and "diversity," replacing them with "equity" and "access." The change is intended, Graham wrote, "to emphasize fair and just treatment as well as broad accessibility and empowerment of everyone," and was recommended by the ABA's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. In a related change, the ABA will screen box mailings using U.N. criteria for hate speech, no longer following a hands-off approach, which led to great controversy this summer when copies of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier were included in a white box mailing.

Annual publisher meetings: Graham reported that he, ABA CEO Allison Hill, ABA COO Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, and board v-ps Christine Onorati of WORD Bookstores, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J., and Kelly Estep of Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Ky., have had Zoom calls with top publishing executives and have focused on "some very practical issues that emerged in an ABA survey of booksellers--notably, damages, B2B sales, virtual events, Batch, and diversity in books and sales forces. Plus, of course, the need for terms that support a sustainable bookstore model."


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima


PNBA Education Keynote: De-escalate Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association's fall conference in Portland, Ore., came to a close at the Education Keynote Lunch on Tuesday. Cassie Clemans of Roundabout Books in Bend, Ore., first thanked all those who participated and gathered in good spirits this week. For many in attendance, the "Back in the Flow" show was their first time returning to live events since the pandemic began. Moods varied between being overwhelmed by the return and unbridled excitement to see old friends and colleagues.

Clemens then introduced the day's keynote speaker, Steven Seiller, a consultant in areas of conflict management and specialized safety training. "The past two years have brought unprecedented times to our frontline booksellers," Clemens said. "Our booksellers have suddenly become faced with mediating customers conflicts and confrontations about masking, distancing, vaccination and hand-sanitizing. Our owners have been faced with teaching staff to be prepared with appropriate responses, not just setting expectations but also enforcing them."

Steven Seiller

Seiller gave an engaging presentation on best practices in de-escalation. His first bit of advice could be summed up as, "If you can manage yourself, you can manage anything." He emphasized that controlling other people and forcing a solution into a situation is not the best strategy; instead, strive to manage one's own adrenaline responses in the moment.

Building from a basis of neurobiology, Seiller highlighted ways that human instinct can be naturally combative, before detailing strategies to work around our own instincts in high-stress situations. Possible forms of response, he indicated, range from aggression, direction, encouragement, assessment, self-care, and even non-response. But, like the oxygen mask on an airplane, it is essential to hold oneself in check before engaging in confrontation.

"One response does not fit all" situations, according to Seiller. He also pointed out that shouting is not equal to physical aggression, even if a brain under the influence of an adrenaline response might conflate the two. For this reason, it's important to assess the root of the conflict and work around the problem by asking questions and building a relationship, rather than try to squash the problem by force. Once resolved, the problem can be further analyzed to prevent similar problems in the future.

Since each conflict will dictate its own needs for resolution, Seiller's presentation was more focused on versatile principles than concrete examples. All of the information presented in the session is available for free download in his de-escalation e-book: De-escalate Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Unplug the Power Struggle with Principle-Based De-escalation. --Dave Wheeler


Wild Lark Books Coming to Lubbock, Tex., Next Month

Wild Lark Books, a bookstore that will also serve as a publishing service for independent authors, is opening in Lubbock, Tex., in November, KFYO reported.

Located on Broadway Street in downtown Lubbock, the 2,500-square-foot bookstore will offer a curated selection of 5,000 titles, along with an 800-sq.-ft. space that can be used for events or rented for meetings. There will also be a full kitchen and warehouse space.

Brianne van Reenan

Owner Brianne van Reenen was inspired to open a bookstore in 2019, after visiting a bookshop in the "northern-most corner of Scotland." At the same time, van Reenen has witnessed many authors spend years trying to get their work published through traditional means and wanted to offer support and alternatives to those writers.

Wild Lark will provide self-publication packages along with services related to brand-building, audience engagement and marketing. Authors retain full rights to their work and will earn royalties; packages include an author-branded landing page.

In addition to the bookstore and publishing service, van Reenen has created the Wild Lark Books Fund, a nonprofit arm aimed at amplifying the voices of historically underserved and underrepresented writers.


International Update: Covid's Impact on Canadian Indies, Amazon Opens First 4-Star Store in U.K.

Like their colleagues worldwide, Canadian independent booksellers have had to change the ways they do business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, BookNet Canada reported in sharing numbers from The State of Independent Bookselling in Canada 2020. The study, which gathered data from indie bookstores across the country, also "delves into the impact of the pandemic on bookselling: both what changes have been difficult and which ones independent bookstores intend to keep post-pandemic."

Between 2019 and 2020, 83% of indies experienced an increase in shipping costs, BookNet Canada noted. One bookseller said the "true costs of online shopping and shipping will become apparent in 2021 and beyond. There was so much government support (both directly and via publishers) in 2020, that many of those costs were offset, and we will see less of that going forward. Profitability will be a real issue."

Regarding government support, 79% of respondents qualified for Covid-19 governmental assistance programs in 2020, while 55% received help from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and 55% the Canada Emergency Business Account.

Between 2019 and 2020, sales of puzzles increased for 80% of bookstores, followed by new books sales growth for 67%, and toys/games for 45%, the study found. 

Indie booksellers expressed optimism for the future of their businesses: more than 70% rated their bookstore as "healthy--able to withstand challenges, adapt, and thrive." 


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Amazon opened its first non-food store in the U.K. this week. The Bookseller reported that the Amazon 4-star store, which offers items that are rated four stars and above on the website, "will sell around 2,000 of its most popular and best-rated products, including books." The store, located in the Bluewater shopping centre near Dartford, is the first outside the U.S., where there are more than 30 outlets. Andy Jones, director of Amazon 4-star U.K., declined to say how many more stores Amazon plans to open in the U.K.

Retail expert Natalie Berg told BBC News that the Amazon move "is purely about experimentation.... This is not about shifting more product; it's about baiting shoppers into Amazon's ecosystem. It's about getting shoppers to engage with Amazon's devices, reminding Prime customers of the value in their memberships, and offering additional choice when it comes to collection and returns of online orders."

Berg added that the 4-star concept "has the potential to be a bit muddled and uninspiring. The store features a smorgasbord of products, the result of Amazon's very scientific, data-led approach to physical retail. But when you strip out the high-tech touches, I struggle to see how it differentiates from any other retailer."

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German book sales are recovering to pre-pandemic levels. The European and International Booksellers Federation's NewsFlash reported that "after 38 long weeks, the German book trade has finally reached the 2019 pre-pandemic levels. While the overall book trade has now caught up, the physical retail rates are still lagging behind by 14%. The price adjustments have made a significant contribution to the successful race as the average price paid by customers rose by 5%." --Robert Gray


Obituary Note: Philip Spitzer

Philip Spitzer

Philip Spitzer, founder of the Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency and literary agent to many authors, died October 5. He was 82. He represented James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, Andre Dubus, Andre Dubus III, Ken Bruen and Simon Van Booy and many others.

Spitzer began his career in publishing by earning an M.A. at New York University's Graduate Institute of Book Publishing. He worked as an editorial assistant at NYU Press before becoming assistant to the director of marketing in McGraw-Hill's trade book department. He then became the director of sales and marketing of McGraw-Hill's art book department. From 1966 to 1969, Spitzer worked as a literary agent for John Cushman Associates, then the U.S. affiliate of Curtis, Brown, London, representing hundreds of British writers. In 1969, he formed the Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency, representing a broad range of fiction and nonfiction writers, along with more than a dozen French publishers. He specialized in general fiction and literary crime fiction, as well as nonfiction subjects of politics, sports, and works of sociological interest.

Survivors include Anne-Lise Spitzer, who is executive v-p and literary agent at the Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency and was previously v-p and director of marketing at Knopf, Pantheon and Schocken Books.

Services will be held this Sunday, October 10, at noon at Yardley & Pino Funeral Home, 94 Pantigo Road in East Hampton, N.Y. Attendees must be fully vaccinated and wear masks. The family is also planning a memorial service in New York City at a later time.

Donations can be made in lieu of flowers to Parkinsons.org.


Notes

Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich., Reopens After Flood

Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Mich., has reopened for curbside pick-up and web orders after a pipe burst yesterday, flooding part of the store and creating a "10-foot sinkhole in the courtyard spewing water."

No books were harmed, and the Nicola Books staff continues to clean up and dry things out while being "very grateful." The team wrote on Instagram: "It could have been so much worse. Hope to welcome you back in-store soon."


Happy 25th Birthday, Blue Willow Bookshop!

Congratulations to Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., which is celebrating its 25th birthday with a most generous program called "5 for 25." As co-owner Valerie Koehler explained in her newsletter, "A few weeks ago, after Hurricane Ida blasted the southern coast of Louisiana, I told you that I have a special bond with those communities. And all of us in Hurricane Harvey's path hold the Cajun Navy in our hearts. So we selected five books that are dear to us, and are asking if you would like to purchase one or more of them for children in these communities."

The titles are Chez Bob by Bob Shea; Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson; The Old Truck by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey; Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman; and Someone Builds the Dream by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Loren Long.

Customers can purchase one or more to donate. Blue Willow is already working with a group in the LaPlace, La., area that will help deliver the books to local children.

The store added: "It's always been important to us to connect readers and books, and we hope to continue to do that for many years to come. Thank you for helping us celebrate our anniversary. Here's to the next 25 years!"


Image of the Day: PBNA BuzzBook

At the PNBA trade show this week, booksellers visited participating publishers on the exhibit floor and voted for the book they thought was the most buzzworthy. The Biggest Buzzbook winner was the historical mystery Pignon Scorbion and the Barbershop Detectives (Blackstone Publishing; February 8, 2022) by Rick Bleiweiss (pictured). Bleiweiss started his career in the music industry, as a rock performer, producer, songwriter and record company executive; this is his debut novel.


S.F.'s Green Apple and NYC's Books Are Magic Featured on... Wallpaper

Yelp teamed up with Chasing Paper to create a wallpaper featuring beloved indie businesses in San Francisco, including Green Apple Books. The artwork is by illustrator Amanda Giuffre of @nounnewyork. Proceeds benefit La Cocina, which helps low-income food entrepreneurs start their own businesses. As Green Apple co-owner Pete Mulvihill noted, "We can't wait for Green Apple to grace someone's bathroom wall!"

A New York City version of the wallpaper includes images of Books Are Magic, in Brooklyn. Also created by Amanda Giuffre, the NYC edition benefits Hot Bread Kitchen, which provides immigrant women and women of color with workforce training, professsional development and entrepreneurship opportunities in the food industry.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sandor Katz on NPR's Splendid Table

Tomorrow:
NPR's Splendid Table: Sandor Katz, author of Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys (Chelsea Green, $35, 9781645020349).


This Weekend on Book TV: The National Book Festival

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, October 9
8 a.m. Allison K. Lange, author of Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women's Suffrage Movement (‎University of Chicago Press, $35, 9780226815848). (Re-airs Saturday at 8 p.m.)

3:30 p.m. Ken Bernstein and Stephen Schafer, author and photographer of Preserving Los Angeles: How Historic Places Can Transform America's Cities (Angel City Press, $50, 9781626400757). (Re-airs Sunday at 3:30 a.m.)

4:50 p.m. Jeffrey Pasley and John Craig Hammond, authors of A Fire Bell in the Past: The Missouri Crisis at 200, Volume I (University of Missouri, $45, 9780826222312). (Re-airs Sunday at 4:50 a.m.)

7 p.m. Leah Garrett, author of X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II (Mariner, $28, 9780358172031). (Re-airs Sunday at 7 a.m.)

Sunday, October 10
8 a.m. Arthur Herman, author of The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World (Mariner, $30, 9781328595904). (Re-airs Sunday at 8 p.m.)

9 a.m. Sheryll Cashin, author of White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality (Beacon Press, $28.95, 9780807000298). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m.)

10 a.m. Lizzie Johnson, author of Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire (Crown, $28, 9780593136386). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

2 p.m. Interview and live call-in with Joseph Ellis, author of The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783 (Liveright, $30, 9781631498985), at the National Book Festival.

3 p.m. Interview and live call-in with Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (Doubleday, $32.50, 9780385545686), at the National Book Festival.

4 p.m. Catherine Belton, author of Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35, 9780374238711), at the National Book Festival.

4:30 p.m. Janice Nimura, author of The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine (Norton, $27.95, 9780393635546), at the National Book Festival.

5 p.m. Rep. Sharice Davids, co-author of Sharice's Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman (HarperCollins, $17.99, 9780062979667), at the National Book Festival.



Books & Authors

Awards: Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Winner

Clare Whitfield won the £2,000 (about $2,720) Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award for her debut novel People of Abandoned Character. In addition to the cash prize, the winner receives an engraved glass bell.

Established in 2017 by London bookseller David Headley, co-founder and managing director of Goldsboro Books, the prize recognizes a novel of any genre with "brilliant characterization and a distinct voice that is confidently written and assuredly realized." 

"The decision was pretty much unanimous," said the Goldsboro Books staff. "Clare Whitfield's thrilling debut impressed the whole team for its fresh and unique take on the Whitechapel murders. Told from the point of view of a woman who wonders whether her violent and manipulative husband could be Jack the Ripper, it's also a thoughtful and compelling exploration of the endless violence faced by women of all walks of life. We're delighted to award this year's Glass Bell to Clare Whitfield, a hugely exciting new name in fiction. We know that she will go far."


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, November 12:

State of Terror: A Novel by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton (‎Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781982173678) is a thriller starring a fictional secretary of state.

The Party Crasher: A Novel by Sophie Kinsella (The Dial Press, $27, 9780593449172) follows a woman who sneaks into a party at her childhood home.

The Book of Magic: A Novel by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, $27.99, 9781982151485) concludes the Practical Magic fantasy series.

On Animals by Susan Orlean (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781982181536) contains essays exploring animal-human relationships.

The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard (Morrow, $28.99, 9780063065246) tracks the history of the Howards in Hollywood.

To Rescue the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union, and the Crisis of 1876 by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney (Custom House, $28.99, 9780063039544) explores Grant's life and a political crisis at the end of his presidency.

Clarice the Brave by Lisa McMann (Putnam, $17.99, 9780593323373) features sibling "ship" mice who must survive on their own when they are accidentally separated.

Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman (Aladdin, $17.99, 9781534482531) is the author's middle-grade debut about two children who become friends in the summer of 1987.


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell (Atria Books, $28, 9781982137366). "Lisa Jewell is indeed a master of suspense with The Night She Disappeared. Multiple timelines add to the suspense as the characters' lives began to interweave and the story builds to an unexpected climax." --Eileen McGervey, One More Page Books, Arlington, Va.

Graceland, At Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South by Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions, $26, 9781571311849). "Margaret Renkl's essays alternate between balm for the soul and outrage at the world with all of its injustices. She makes me think and see things in a different light, and for that I'm eternally grateful." --Jayne Rowsam, Mystery to Me, Madison, Wis.

Paperback
What Could Be Saved by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz (Washington Square Press, $17, 9781982150624). "What Could Be Saved is a moving, powerful story of loss and regret, loyalty and redemption. These beautifully drawn, tragically flawed characters will remain with me long after turning the last page." --Anderson McKean, Page and Palette, Fairhope, Ala.

For Ages 4 to 8
My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, illus. by Erika Meza (Kokila, $17.99, 9780593111048). "With vibrant illustrations and a message on using your privilege to advocate for and take care of those without the same privilege, this overwhelmingly sweet story is meant to ignite further discussion." --Claire Phelan, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash.

For Ages 8 to 12
Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 9780316493833). "Addy suffers from the memory of the house fire that killed her parents, and then a forest fire overwhelms her at wilderness camp. A gripping and satisfying novel for middle-grade readers." --Carol Moyer, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C.

For Teen Readers: An Indies Introduce Title
When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez (Dial Books, $19.99, 9780593324486). "Elisabet Velasquez conjures her community into existence in a living, breathing narrative debut in verse that moved my soul. Her fiery, literary voice is echoing in my mind still." --Brein Lopez, Children's Book World, Los Angeles, Calif.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Review: The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning

The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning by Paul Bloom (Ecco, $27.99 hardcover, 304p., 9780062910561, November 2, 2021)

In The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, Yale University psychology professor Paul Bloom makes a spirited argument for the proposition that instead of being motivated by the simple desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain, "under the right circumstances and in the right doses, physical pain and emotional pain, difficulty and failure and loss, are exactly what we are looking for."

Consistent with Bloom's thesis, there's a term--"motivational pluralism"--coined by the economist Tyler Cowen, that describes his perspective on the complex, sometimes conflicting desires that drive human behavior. Among his several goals in the book, he says, is to provide a "broader picture of human nature," one that recognizes that, rather than pure hedonism, "we are inclined toward something deeper and more transcendent."

Bloom is convinced that a well-lived life involves "among other things, moral goodness and meaningful pursuits," and that "some forms of suffering, involving struggle and difficulty, are essential parts of achieving these higher goals, and for living a complete and fulfilling life." When it comes to meaning itself, he's far less interested in an abstract search for the meaning of life than with what it is that gives life meaning. Focusing instead on an attempt to define what he considers "meaningful activities," he argues that "you can achieve a meaningful life without knowing that you're trying to achieve it or thinking about it at all."

As demanded by the ambitious scope of his subject, Bloom, author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, marshals a large body of evidence, including numerous scientific studies. In a given chapter he may rely on material from an experiment in the field of happiness studies by the well-known psychologist Daniel Kahneman alongside an account from a mixed martial arts fighter that illustrates how "the terrible can morph into the transcendent," followed by a summary of an Ursula Le Guin short story about a land whose inhabitants pay a terrible price for their happiness. His resources are both eclectic and intellectually stimulating.

Bloom himself has an impressive range of interests, and he's unafraid to explore discrete questions that surround his central theme. These include quirky ones, like why some people enjoy horror movies or explaining the lure of BDSM, and more profound ones, like what effect having children has on one's sense of life's meaning or whether unchosen suffering makes us more resilient. The Sweet Spot is certain both to spark reflection and not a few vigorous rebuttals. Regardless of where one lands on its central themes, it's consistently provocative, thoughtful and often sheer fun to read. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Psychologist Paul Bloom explores how essential the experience of suffering is in giving meaning to our lives.


The Bestsellers

Libro.fm Bestsellers in September

The bestselling Libro.fm audiobooks at independent bookstores during September:

Fiction
1. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (Macmillan Audio)
2. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (Macmillan Audio)
3. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (Penguin Random House Audio)
4. Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune (Macmillan Audio)
5. A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (Penguin Random House Audio)
6. Dune by Frank Herbert (Macmillan Audio)
7. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Macmillan Audio)
8. Matrix by Lauren Groff (Penguin Random House Audio)
9. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (HarperAudio)
10. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Simon & Schuster Audio)

Nonfiction        
1. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (Penguin Random House Audio)
2. Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (Simon & Schuster Audio)
3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Tantor Media)
4. Unbound by Tarana Burke (Macmillan Audio)
5. Cultish by Amanda Montell (HarperAudio)
6. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (Penguin Random House Audio)
7. The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff (Simon & Schuster Audio)
8. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (Penguin Random House Audio)
9. What Happened to You? by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry (Macmillan Audio)
10. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith (Hachette Audio)


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