Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Storey Publishing: The Universe in Verse: 15 Portals to Wonder Through Science & Poetry by Maria Popova

Tommy Nelson: You'll Always Have a Friend: What to Do When the Lonelies Come by Emily Ley, Illustrated by Romina Galotta

Jimmy Patterson: Amir and the Jinn Princess by M T Khan

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

Blue Box Press: A Soul of Ash and Blood: A Blood and Ash Novel by Jennifer L Armentrout


ABA Snow Days Opening Keynote: Jane McGonigal on Imagining the Future of Bookselling

"We are so excited for the programming we have for you. And we're particularly excited about the conversations we plan on having about the future," American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill said yesterday before introducing Jane McGonigal, who presented ABA Snow Days opening keynote, "How to Imagine the Future of Bookselling." 

"Today I'm going to teach you to time travel. Not in a machine, but in your own mind," said McGonigal, a future forecaster, designer of alternate reality games and bestselling author whose most recent book is Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything--Even Things that Seem Impossible Today (Spiegel & Grau, March 22). "I'm going to teach you how to time travel so that you can go somewhere better than today and spend some time in a world that feels good, a future world where we've changed some things that need to change." 


According to her research, since the beginning of 2020, there have been more than 2.5 million headlines and news stories with the word unimaginable in them; and over three million news stories with the word unthinkable. "We've all lived through these unimaginable and unthinkable events together," she said. "The fact that these two words show up so often in our stories tells us something important about our global condition. We are in a state of collective shock." 

She posed a question: How can we feel at ease and secure, or even excited about the future, if we're constantly bracing ourselves for the next unimaginable event or unthinkable change? McGonigal conducts studies about what happens in our brains and bodies when we try to imagine the future, and creates games to help predict and simulate hard to imagine futures, believing that humans can develop a mindset she calls urgent optimism.

"Mental flexibility is the opposite of being stuck mentally," she said. "It's the ability to recognize that anything can become different in the future, even things that seem impossible to change today. Realistic hope is a balance of positive and shadow imagination. It's knowing which risks and threats it makes sense to worry about, but also which new solutions, technologies, ideas and positive actions it makes sense to be excited and optimistic about. And future power is the feeling of control; it's the agency to directly impact how the future turns out by taking intentional action today. "

Using these three principles, McGonigal's first game asked the audience to answer three questions--using a 1-10 scale--regarding their expectations for the next decade in bookselling, then add up their answers. That number, which she called an urgent optimism score, is designed to be a conversation starter.

"Urgent optimism is not a fixed personality trait," she observed. "It changes often throughout our lives and it changes from topic to topic.... There's not just one singular future that we're trying to shape. There are many different futures that intersect and shape each other.... We can purposefully build more urgent optimism when we need it most."

Her work at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., focuses on Future Imagination Training. "What we're really trying to find out is what does it really mean to find something to be hard to imagine, and how can we get better at it?"

McGonigal asked the audience to imagine, in precise detail, what it would be like waking up tomorrow morning ("a highly imaginable future"), a year from now ("Your imagination is now working harder."), and 10 years from now ("For most people, the sensation of this activity is like reaching for something that isn't quite there.").

She said this Mental Time Travel is the "ability to transport yourself forward in time and pre-experience a future event. Mental Time Travel is more than just thinking about the future. It's simulating the future in your mind.... Mental Time Travel can also help us change our communities, change our industry, change society, especially when we go on mental time trips together, to visit worlds together that other people might describe as unthinkable or unimaginable today."

Another game called upon the audience to travel collectively a decade into the future, where the government has established Thank You Day, which includes a "book gifting" aspect through a registry integrated with Enthusiasm in the chat room was high for that one. 

Attendees were encouraged to explore "future scenarios for bookselling 10 years from today" in their breakout session after the keynote using a scenario brainstorming game called 100 Ways Anything Can Be Different in the Future. It is based on something known to futurists as (Jim) Dator's Law: "Any useful statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous." 

"If you were to visit us at the Institute for the Future you would find this law painted right on our front window," McGonigal said. " 'Ridiculous at first futures' are the kind of futures that we might hope for, that we might work for, or pray for, or mobilize for even as so many other people tell us that the kind of positive change we want to achieve is impossible, the transformation is unimaginable." --Robert Gray

Weldon Owen: The Gay Icon's Guide to Life by Michael Joosten, Illustrated by Peter Emerich

Pocket Books Opening Next Month in Lancaster, Pa.

Pocket Books in progress.

Pocket Books, a 1,000-square-foot bookstore selling predominantly new books, will open next month in Lancaster, Pa., Lancaster Online reported. Co-owners Jessica Callahan, Austin Carter and Julie Ross, who met in graduate school, are shooting for an April 21 opening date.

The bookstore will be located on the ground floor of a two-and-a-half-story building that the co-owners purchased last month for $450,000. Currently Callahan and Ross live on the building's second floor, though they told Lancaster Online that they may eventually use that space for the bookstore.

The store's inventory will include mostly new fiction titles, along with a smattering of used books, and in general the stock will "speak to feminist ideals and be queer welcoming," Callahan explained. "We want it to be a safe space for everybody."

The ownership trio met while attending grad school in Ohio. Callahan and Ross, who are from Texas and Massachusetts, respectively, both studied sociology. Carter, originally from Lititz, Pa., studied English. They chose to move to the Lancaster area to open the bookstore they "long dreamed of having."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

John Mendelson Has Left Candlewick Press

John Mendelson, Candlewick Press senior v-p, sales director, and Walker Books Group sales director for USA and Canada, has left the company.

Candlewick said that during his 12 and a half years with the company, Mendelson "has overseen tremendous expansion and growth in a rapidly changing industry and oversaw the launch and development of the publishers' e-books program and digital strategy."

Karen Lotz, president and publisher of Candlewick Press and group managing director of the Walker Books Group, added: "His excellent taste and commercial instincts have helped shape our program in countless ways, and his innovative ideas have helped us build our presence throughout the market. John is leaving us with a superb team in place, one that has successfully navigated the pandemic and continues to operate at a very high level of service for our customers. He has been an extraordinarily dedicated, kind, and wonderful colleague."

Mendelson said, "I will always cherish my time at Candlewick and the Walker Books Group. I have learned so much from my amazing colleagues, customers, and partners and had the privilege to help connect books from so many incredible authors and illustrators with readers all over the world. I will miss it all greatly as I consider what my professional future holds, but whatever it may be, I am sure books will be involved."

He may be reached via e-mail.

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

Ezra Jack Keats Award Winners: Paul Harbridge and Gracey Zhang

On Tuesday morning, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, announced the winners of the 2022 Ezra Jack Keats Awards: Paul Harbridge and Gracey Zhang. This annual award "celebrates exceptional early career authors and illustrators for portraying the multicultural nature of our world in the spirit of Ezra Jack Keats."

Paul Harbridge won the EJK Author Award for his picture book Out into the Big Wide Lake (Tundra Books), illustrated by Josée Bisaillon.

Paul Harbridge

How are you feeling about receiving the EJK Award? How did you find out you had won?

When I found out from my publisher, Tundra Books, that I had been nominated, I was blown away. I waited, hoping beyond hope, that the EJK Foundation would contact me. Then the announcement deadline passed--or so I believed--and I was sad to think I had not won. But the very next day, as I was driving my car, a phone call appeared on the dashboard screen and it was them, telling me the fabulous news! I tell you, I almost crashed my car out of sheer jubilation!

Would you summarize Out into the Big Wide Lake for our readers?

A girl named Kate who lives in a big city is invited by her grandparents to spend the summer with them at their home on a lake. Her mother is hesitant, but her grandmother insists Kate is up for it. Kate is homesick until she makes friends with her grandparent's dog, Parbuckle, and starts helping her grandfather deliver groceries around the lake. Her grandmother even teaches her to pilot the little boat by herself! One day her grandfather is rushed to the hospital and she and Parbuckle are left on the dock with all the groceries. What will Kate do? You will have to read the book to find out! Oh, and by the way, Kate just happens to have Down syndrome.

You write in an author's note that the book's protagonist is inspired by your little sister, Linda. Was she the inspiration for the whole story? How does Linda feel about the character of Kate?

The idea of a child helping his grandfather make deliveries around a lake came to me. And then I asked myself, why couldn't the hero of the piece have Down syndrome like my sister Linda? And then I thought of how Linda and our dog Benjie did everything together.

Linda really loves the book, Kate and Parbuckle. And she gets a kick out of the photograph of her that appears at the beginning of the book.

Do you often get ideas for stories or characters from those around you?

I often get my ideas from childhood memories, but they are just starting points for my imagination. For example, my previous book, When the Moon Comes, was inspired by my father telling me how he played hockey on a frozen beaver pond when he was a boy. Most of the story, though, is my own invention.

For Out into the Big Wide Lake--I grew up in Gravenhurst, Ontario, on beautiful Lake Muskoka and the lake was a big part of our lives. As a teenager, I worked on an island one summer in an area called Millionaires Row and often saw market boats bringing groceries from the mainland.

I loved the slow build to Kate driving the boat. Did you know right away that you wanted Kate to save the day?

Usually as I write, a character comes to life in my imagination. In this book, both Kate and Parbuckle took on lives of their own and, at some point, I knew I wanted there to be a challenge they could face together.

Are you working on anything right now?

Yep. A story about a squirrel. Fingers crossed.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?

I'd like to encourage your readers and the young people in their lives to be willing to try new things--you never know if you can do something 'til you give it your best shot.

Gracey Zhang

Gracey Zhang won the Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award for her debut picture book, Lala's Words (Scholastic).

How are you feeling about receiving the EJK Award? How did you find out you had won?

Difficult to put into words, but gratitude sums it up best. I received the call while I was in the middle of moving supplies at my studio. I was caught completely off guard but was left speechless and dazed in the best way possible.

Would you summarize Lala's Words for our readers?

A mother learns to see her child in her own light.

May we assume you are a plant lover? 

A plant lover, but not the best plant caretaker--I admire from afar.

This is your first authored and illustrated title. Did the story come to you first in pictures? In words? As both?

Lala's story came to me first as a relationship between mother and daughter, but the visuals and story were hammered out in partnership during the process. Like feeling out a path in a cave, lots of bumps and scrapes from trial and error.

What was your inspiration?

Mothers and daughters; seeing the film Ladybird also reaffirmed a lot of feelings that spurred the creation of Lala's Words.

How did you manage balancing your text and illustrations?

Precariously, with lots of sketches, ink brushes and scribbled-out drafts.

I love the limited palette you used. Why did you choose to use only two colors and greyscale? What effect were you hoping to achieve?

I have always loved the richness of gradients you can achieve with black ink--what better way to show the beauty of a concrete jungle!

Could you tell our readers about your illustrative process? Do you always work in gouache and ink?

I always work traditionally, with a mix of inks, gouache and watercolors. I set a large pad of papers down and measure out the rough trim size, say a little prayer and then hope for the best.

Are you working on anything right now?

Many projects! All hopefully coming to light very, very soon.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf Awareness readers?

Storytime before bed is always a good send-off to sleep, no matter what age.

The Ezra Jack Keats award ceremony will be held virtually on Thursday, April 7, 2 p.m. Eastern, during the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

Obituary Note: Robert Hicks

Robert Hicks

Robert Hicks, author of the blockbuster The Widow of the South, which helped finance his passion of buying and saving a Civil War battlefield in Franklin, Tenn., died on March 4. He was 71.

Published in 2005, The Widow of the South was Hicks's first novel and was, the New York Times wrote, "one of the buzziest books of the year, with his publisher, Warner Books, ordering 250,000 copies for its first print run."

The Widow of the South told the story of Carrie McGavock, who with her husband owned Carnton, a mansion that served as a Civil War hospital, which Hicks had helped restore. The novel "imagines a love story involving her and a Confederate soldier." The book also helped popularize Carnton: visits quadrupled, "and over the next decade Franklin transformed from a sleepy Nashville suburb to a luxury enclave, a change due at least partly to the book's success."

"He was a poet for people whose voices were stilled years ago," Eric Jacobson, the head of the Battle of Franklin Trust, which manages Carnton and other sites, told the Times. "He gave voice to people who died decades ago who sadly had been forgotten."

Hicks also published two other novels, A Separate Country (2009) and The Orphan Mother (2016).

Hicks was accomplished in an array of fields, the Times noted, "including as a music publisher, an expert in 19th-century Southern furniture--Art & Antiques magazine named him one of the country's top 100 collectors for seven years in a row--and as a leading force in historic preservation around Nashville."

After helping restore Carnton, he decided to buy a golf course on the site of the Battle of Franklin that was for sale to keep the area from being developed.

As the Times recounted, "He reached out to civic groups, politicians, developers, country music stars, Black activists and other preservationists, selling them on the idea that reclaiming the site's history was an opportunity to put Franklin at the center of a new, difficult conversation about America's past."

He helped raise nearly $20 million to buy some 110 acres and turn it into a park. The result was what the National Park Service called "the largest battlefield reclamation in North American history."


Indie Booksellers Celebrate #InternationalWomen'sDay

Many independent bookstores marked International Women's Day yesterday with social media posts, including:

Bliss Books & Wine, Kansas City, Mo.: "International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.... Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality."

At Thank You Books

Thank You Books, Birmingham, Ala.: "When 3 team members show up in that same sweatshirt on International Women's Day? That's called a photoshoot. HAPPY IWD FROM TYB!!!!"

The Bookshop, East Nashville, Tenn.: "Happy #internationalwomensday from this woman-owned, (currently) women-staffed, women-championing #indiebookstore!"

Westbourne Bookshop, Bournemouth, England: "Happy International Women's Day! We're celebrating with a window chock-a-block full of books written by, for, and about women. Fiction or nonfiction, we've represented you here!"

Once Upon A Time Bookstore, Montrose, Calif.: "Happy International Women's Day! We have been inspired by so many voices to persevere, to speak up, and to change the world. We are proud to be a woman owned business that works to celebrate voices that have been systematically excluded."

At Plaid Elephant Books

Plaid Elephant Books, Danville, Ky.: "We are proud to be a woman-owned business! Happy International Women's Day to all the feisty and fabulous women who are making their communities stronger and more vibrant."

Analog Books, Lethbridge, Alb., Canada: "Today is International Women's Day and we're highlighting our curated table of women authors including a large selection of Canadians. As a business owned and operated by (mostly) women (OK, Scott helps out here and there), Analog Books stands in solidarity with women around the world and support the calls for action to advance gender equality." 

Interabang Books, Dallas, Tex.: "Happy International Women's Day! We love the 'Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls' series. Celebrate the women in your life, today and always! Thank you to all the women that make Interabang Books a possibility."

Faqir Chand Bookstore, Delhi, India: "Celebrating women's day! With this very special book--Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India's Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence. In this pathbreaking work, Shrayana Bhattacharya maps the economic and personal trajectories--the jobs, desires, prayers, love affairs and rivalries--of a diverse group of women.... A most unusual and compelling book on the female gaze, this is the story of how women have experienced post-liberalization India."

44th and 3rd Bookseller, Atlanta, Ga.: "Happy International Women's Day! Today we celebrate the amazing contributions of women everywhere. Make sure you take time today to celebrate the women in your lives that have made and continue to make a difference in your life."

At Booka Bookshop

Booka Bookshop, Oswestry, England: "HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY. Today we're celebrating some of our local female authors and icons, along with our favourite female author books... not forgetting our amazing female team."

The Literary Book Bar, Champaign, Ill.: "Happy happy happy International Women's Day! We are so in awe of the amazing, fearless ladies behind The Literary and Hopscotch."

Book + Bottle, St. Petersburg, Fla.: "Wishing everyone a lovely International Women’s Day. We have so many incredible, hardworking women on and off our team contributing to make Book + Bottle the best it can be, and we are beyond grateful for each person who has been a part of our journey."

Birdie Books & Café, Westerville, Ohio: "International Women's Day. Today my mind and heart remain with the many women across Ukraine (and the world) fleeing war with their children, many of them alone. What are they telling their children? How are they keeping it together? I don't think I could be that brave. I wish I could reach through the screen and give them a big hug, and a warm, safe place to be."

Volumes Bookcafe/Volumes Bookstore, Chicago, Ill. "It’s #internationalwomensday and tbh, we’re thinking a lot about all of the women owned businesses that are hustling just as hard as we are. Did you know that the majority of independent bookstores nationwide are owned by women? Well, now you do...."

Bookseller Cat: RIP Celeste at Talk Story Bookstore

Ed Justus, co-owner of Talk Story Bookstore, Hanapepe, Hawaii, recently posted a tribute marking the loss of the shop's long-serving bookseller cat. It read, in part: "At 19 years old, 'Celeste' has passed away. Affectionally known as 'The Boss' or more popularly by her Instagram handle 'Celeste_the_Cat_Boss,' she spent her life doing exactly what she wanted to do: sleeping in her basket behind the desk, getting treats on demand (often ringing a bell to do so), and glaring at the customers as they adored her. Calculating to human years, Celeste lived to be 87....

"When Talk Story Bookstore began in 2004, Celeste moved into the store and became 'The Boss.' Over the years, she shared the store space with many cats which have come and gone, but Celeste was always there, a fixture of the bookstore. In her life, she must have encountered hundreds of thousands of people, making an impression upon them for better or for worse. Celeste has had videos made of her, been interviewed on national television shows and social media streams, was a council candidate campaign manager, trended on Reddit with seventeen thousand likes and on Cats of Instagram with one hundred thousand likes, gained three thousand followers on her own Instagram, and was named by Mental Floss dot com as one of the Top Ten Bookstore Cats in the World. No small feat for this 'runt of the litter.'

"Her likeness and cattitude has been immortalized in book and sticker-form by my wife, Yuriko, in the creation of the 'Mochi-Celeste' character, who brings smiles and laughter to people of all ages. Even though Celeste is no longer with us, her spirit lives on through 'Mochi-Celeste' and in the bookstore itself. 

"Even though her basket behind the desk sits empty, I still feel her presence there, judging me as I work and run the store. Or when I unlock the store in the morning, I still await her complaining meows to me that she hasn't been feed yet. I miss her. We both do. She was one-of-a-kind. Celeste had been my ever-present companion, the longest person I have ever had in my life on a continuous basis. She was family. I am grateful she shared her life with us and with all those that met her. Celeste, you were unique. You will be missed. And remembered."

Personnel Changes at Little, Brown

At Little, Brown:

Brandon Kelley is promoted to executive director, marketing operations.

Jessica Chun is promoted to senior director of marketing, Spark and Voracious.

Lauren Hesse is promoted to senior director of social media.

Alyssa Persons is promoted to publicity manager.

Maggie Cannon is promoted to publicity and marketing associate.

Bowen Dunnan is promoted to associate editor and marketing associate.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Elizabeth Williamson on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Elizabeth Williamson, author of Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth (Dutton, $28, 9781524746575).

Drew Barrymore Show: Danny Pellegrino, author of How Do I Un-Remember This?: Unfortunately True Stories (Sourcebooks, $25.99, 9781728247984).

TV: Under the Banner of Heaven

Hulu has set an April 28 premiere date for the FX Productions limited series Under the Banner of Heaven, inspired by Jon Krakauer's book, Deadline reported. Created by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk), the project stars Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The series will launch on Hulu in the U.S., with the premiere featuring the first two episodes, followed by a new episode available weekly for the next five weeks. 

The cast also includes Sam Worthington, Denise Gough, Wyatt Russell, Billy Howle, Gil Birmingham, Adelaide Clemens, Rory Culkin, Seth Numrich, Chloe Pirrie and Sandra Seacat.

Black also serves as showrunner and executive produces with Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Anna Culp for Imagine Television; Jason Bateman and Michael Costigan of Aggregate Films; David Mackenzie and Gillian Berrie. 

Books & Authors

Awards: Women's Fiction, Plutarch Longlists

The longlist has been revealed for the £30,000 (about $39,975) Women's Prize for Fiction, which celebrates "accessibility, originality and excellence in writing by women." A shortlist will be announced April 27 and the winner named June 15. The longlisted books are:

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
Careless by Kirsty Capes
Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé
Flamingo by Rachel Elliott
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey
Salt Lick by Lulu Allison
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
This One Sky Day by Leone Ross


The longlist has been announced for the 2021 Plutarch Award, sponsored by the Biographers International Organization and honoring "the best biography published in English." The winner will be announced during BIO's annual conference, which will be held virtually May 15. See the 10 longlisted titles here.

Reading with... Elie Mystal

Elie Mystal is the justice correspondent at the Nation magazine, a frequent guest on MSNBC and CNN, and can usually be found playing video games when not demanding justice. His first book, Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution (The New Press, March 1, 2022) walks readers through the Constitution and tackles some of the biggest issues in the culture wars.

On your nightstand now: 

The Color of Abolition by Linda Hirshman. Linda writes deep dive histories about social movements, with a real focus on the legal histories. She understands that activists are trying to change laws, not just attitudes. 

Favorite book when you were a child:

Return of the King by J.R.R Tolkien. This is the standard answer from a D&D nerd culture kid. What's interesting is that I've picked the last in the series instead of the beginning. I like payoff. 

Your top five authors:

James Baldwin: Baldwin explains, more or less, what it's like to be black in America, 1776--present. 

Nikole Hannah-Jones: Jones explains, more or less, why it's like this in America, and all the things white folks do to keep it that way.

Plato: To understand the government you have to understand what it's trying to do. And why.

Robert Caro: Caro talks like he's explaining people, but really he's explaining power, and how to use it.

Brandon Sanderson: Okay, he writes fiction but the man understands how to build a world. There's no point in understanding how the government works and why and what it's doing if you don't have the creativity to imagine something better or at least different.

Book you've faked reading:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Look, I get it. She's a great author. Yay. I just don't care who's gonna marry Elizabeth. I really don't. I'd rather do math proofs. 

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Storm Before The Storm by Mike Duncan. Duncan laid out exactly how the Roman Republic died and turned into a dictatorship and people need to understand it doesn't start with Julius Caesar, it starts with the norm-breaking breakdown of shared values that creates the conditions for a Julius Caesar, and we are on the same path and people need to get it.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I was 12 or 13 years old and about to get on a plane, and it had a dinosaur on the cover so I went for it, and boy was I not disappointed.

Book you hid from your parents:

The Art of War by Sun Tzu. My parents were very "anti-war." They literally used to take away the guns from my G.I. Joes before they'd let me play with them. But I thought it was important to know about war so I went straight to the source.

Book that changed your life:

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I know some of the science doesn't hold up and some of the arguments are a bit problematic now. But ever since I first got my hands on it, I felt armed to argue with white people that their self-appointed position of primacy in the post-colonial is undeserved and, more importantly, unnecessary. 

Favorite line from a book:

"I can't believe what you say because I see what you do." --James Baldwin. I'm cheating a bit because this is one of his essays (From the Nation magazine, where he was a writer, in fact). I don't remember which collection of essays this was in. But it basically sums up my entire coverage of the Supreme Court.

Five books you'll never part with:

Plato's Republic. As discussed, this explains how and why we have society.

Machiavelli's The Prince. And this explains how the people in charge of that society will inevitably abuse their power, and why the people will not stop them.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War. And this explains how to fight those people in power, when the time comes. And, yes, I know that's what all the annoying tech and banker bros say, but it also works for social activism.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. From the moment I read this in high school I thought "This lady is describing Republicans," and I have never been wrong about that for a single day.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies. This book also explains Republicans. And white boys with no adult supervision. It's a reminder of how quickly it all falls apart. 

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

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I remember thinking that people would read this book and instantly learn that people with money and power were paper tigers and not be so afraid of them. Note, I read this *before* I read The Prince

Your top three plays:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: I mean, like, it takes nice sounding but ultimately vapid people and breaks them with pain and vitriol and liquor. It's violent, yet the only weapon is a snapdragon. It's just the best.

Macbeth: Everybody acts like ambition is a good thing and I always want to say "is it though" and then make people read Macbeth. Sometimes, being content with what you have is okay, too.

Fences: Speaking of people who are broken, you have to understand how people come to be who they are. 

Book Review

Review: All the Secrets of the World

All the Secrets of the World by Steve Almond (Zando, $28 hardcover, 416p., 9781638930020, April 19, 2022)

The fates of two Sacramento families collide most spectacularly in All the Secrets of the World by Steve Almond (Bad Stories; Against Football). This sweeping drama follows 13-year-old Lorena Saenz and a troubled scientist whose disappearance sets in motion a flawed criminal investigation that will ultimately ensnare Lorena's undocumented brother, Tony. Almond's first novel, set in '80s California, at the onset of the Reagan era, even features the astrologically inclined former first lady Nancy Reagan in a minor yet pivotal role fueling the ingenious plot.

Quietly nerdy and academically brilliant Lorena and popular rich girl Jenny Stallworth are middle-schoolers who exist in different social spheres, their paths unlikely to cross if not for their teacher pairing them for a science project. Lorena finds herself invited to the Stallworth mansion, where she develops an all-consuming crush on Jenny's father, Marcus, a scientist who studies scorpions. A quiet academic, Marcus is barely able to contain his inner demons and struggles against his worst impulses and temptations, especially when it comes to Lorena's fast-emerging womanhood and her tendency to show up at his study uninvited.

Tracking his characters from the Sacramento suburbs through the desert toward Yuma, Ariz., and beyond, Almond paints a satirically astute portrait of Reagan's America, with California the epicenter of the president's anti-crime campaign. When Marcus disappears and his Jeep is found abandoned south of Death Valley, foul play is suspected and Tony, the lowest-hanging fruit of possible suspects, is arrested. Once the idea that a delinquent migrant teenager murdered the missing scientist takes hold in the public imagination, officials twist logic and facts to suit their self-serving narrative. For Pedro Guerrero, the police officer who insists on uncovering the truth behind Marcus's disappearance and exonerating Tony, there is nothing but trouble ahead.

With cleverly overlapping subplots and a memorable cast of characters that includes a polygamous cult leader living on a Mexican ranch, Almond's meticulously researched novel is a triumph of storytelling powered by a central theme: the perilous disconnect between those who control or abuse systems of power and the individuals who are at the losing end of the power dynamic. A sensitive storyteller admired for his rich, diverse literary work and his quirky brilliance, Almond, a former co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast, skillfully embellishes his realist drama with notions of the magical and celestial, the mysteries of the desert and the fascinating biology of the creatures that call it home. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Shelf Talker: The dawning of the Reagan era forms the backdrop of this ingenious satire-laced crime and social drama set in '80s California with colorful characters from across the socio-economic spectrum.

The Bestsellers

Top Book Club Picks in February

The following were the most popular book club books during February based on votes from book club readers in more than 75,000 book clubs registered at

1. The Lincoln Highway: A Novel by Amor Towles (Viking)
2. The Four Winds: A Novel by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press)
3. The Midnight Library: A Novel by Matt Haig (Viking)
4. Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
5. The Last Thing He Told Me: A Novel by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster)
6. Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books)
7. It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover (Atria Books)
8. The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Bennett Brit (Riverhead Books)
9. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (Holt)
10. Verity by Colleen Hoover (Grand Central)

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