Shelf Awareness for Monday, July 25, 2022


Disney Lucasfilm Press: Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland

Ballantine Books: Central Places by Delia Cai

MIT Press: Rethinking Gender: An Illustrated Exploration by Louie Läuger

Holiday House: Owl and Penguin (I Like to Read Comics) by Vikram Madan; Noodleheads Take it Easy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Blackstone Publishing: Ezra Exposed by Amy E. Feldman

Clavis: Fall Preview

News

Justice Dept. and PRH/S&S Prepare for Trial Next Week

The Justice Department lawsuit seeking to block Penguin Random House's $2.2 billion acquisition of Simon & Schuster begins a week from today, and both sides have made pretrial filings giving more information and detail about how they plan to present their cases.

Among the highlights: the Justice Department seeks to block defendants from introducing the information--as publicly stated by PRH CEO Markus Dohle--that after the merger PRH will extend its policy of allowing PRH imprints to bid against one another to S&S, and would allow PRH and S&S imprints to bid against each other even without another bidder. The Justice Department argued in its motion that "the substance of defendants' argument amounts to 'don't worry about allowing us to get market power; we promise not to use it.' "

The Justice Department is also planning to call a range of book world witnesses, most notably Stephen King, whose longtime publisher is S&S's Scribner imprint.

The purchase of S&S from ViacomCBS by PRH parent company Bertelsmann was announced in November 2020; the Justice Department filed the civil antitrust lawsuit last November. The original complaint alleged that if the sale proceeds, PRH "would be, by far, the largest book publisher in the United States, towering over its rivals. The merger would give Penguin Random House outsized influence over who and what is published, and how much authors are paid for their work. The deal... would likely harm competition in the publishing industry and should be blocked."

The complaint also alleged that the acquisition would put PRH in control of close to half the market for acquiring publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books, leaving hundreds of individual authors with fewer options and less leverage.

In response, PRH and S&S issued a joint statement saying that the Justice Department "has not alleged that the acquisition would harm competition in the sale of books" and that the company had not planned "any reduction in the number of books acquired or in amounts paid for those acquisitions.... Blocking the transaction would harm the very authors DOJ purports to protect. We will fight this lawsuit vigorously and look forward to PRH serving as the steward for this storied publishing house in the years to come."

In a statement issued last week, Dan Petrocelli of O'Melveny & Meyers, lead attorney for PRH and Bertelsmann, said that the purchase "will strengthen the already vigorous competition among publishers to find and sell the books readers most want to read. More competition to sell books means more competition to acquire them from authors. The Department of Justice's lawsuit misunderstands that competitive dynamic and many others. As trial will show, this acquisition will benefit readers, booksellers, and authors alike."

Among the arguments in the defendants' pretrial brief filed on Friday:

"PRH's larger, industry-leading distribution structure and administrative systems" would help expand distribution of S&S's "attractive list of authors, skilled and experienced editors, and a strong backlist of popular titles... to the benefit of authors and consumers alike, while also improving PRH's ability to compete against its many bookselling rivals."

"Unsurprisingly, after investigating the merger, the government found no evidence that combining PRH and S&S would diminish competition in any consumer market. If anything, by making the combined entity a stronger bookselling competitor, the merger will incentivize other publishers to compete even harder for consumer attention. The government will not even attempt to prove otherwise at trial."

While the Justice Department complaint "initially alleged that the merger would harm competition in the market to acquire U.S. book rights, its expert has abandoned that claim--he admits that the market will remain unconcentrated, and he conducted no analysis purporting to establish harm to that market. The government instead has narrowed its focus down to one very small segment of the market to acquire U.S. book rights: the set of about 1,200 books acquired annually for advances of at least $250,000, or about 2% of all books published by commercial publishers. The government treats this tiny price segment as a 'sub-market' and gives it a label--the market for the rights to 'anticipated top-selling books'--that is entirely unknown to industry participants.

"But even then, the government does not allege the merger will adversely affect all advances within that small price segment. Its focus tightens even further, narrowing down to advances paid when either PRH or S&S acquires the book. And yet according to the mathematical model the government invokes to prove harm, not even advances for all of those books will decline. By its terms, the model applies only to a specific kind of transaction--one very uncommon in the publishing industry. Based on the best available data, the type of transaction modeled by the government accounts for only approximately 85 books acquired annually, out of more than 55,000 total books published annually, and out of approximately 1,200 books acquired annually for advances of $250,000 or more."

The Justice Department "assumes that in all acquisitions, the winning bid amount was constrained by the runner-up bid, which in turns leads to the critical inference that if the runner-up bid were removed, the winning bidder would make a lower bid and still prevail. In the real world, however, agents structure the vast majority of book acquisitions as either a one-on-one negotiation or a single-round 'best bid' auction, neither of which involves a constraining runner-up bid. A model need not 'fit' the real world perfectly, but it must at least represent the real world in a meaningful way. The government's auction model here comes nowhere close."

The Justice Department's analysis of market share is flawed: "The evidence will show that existing Big Five rivals can easily expand and actively plan to do so. Other rivals among the top twenty also can easily increase their acquisitions--they already possess the needed talent, experience, and reputation. And entirely new publishers started by well-known editors have recently gained share and become increasingly effective competitors. Given this ease of expansion and entry, market shares are a highly unreliable predictor of post-merger competitive conditions."


Ebony Magazine Publishing: Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments by Carell Augustus


Indie Booksellers Create Indie Beacon Book Light

Independent bookstore owners Mike Buglio (the Book Rack, Arlington, Mass.) and Debbie Sullivan (the Book Oasis, Stoneham, Mass.) have collaborated to make the Indie Beacon Book Light. Available exclusively to indie booksellers, the light has a rechargeable battery, four LED lights with three different light modes, a flexible neck and lightweight clip, and a portion of the wholesale proceeds of each light are donated to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

Sullivan and Buglio are also the co-owners of the book fair company Fantastic Book Fairs, which they founded in 2017. The pair wanted to have a book light for sale at their fairs, but had trouble finding one they liked that was affordable. They learned that other booksellers were having similar problems, and in particular wanted a reasonably priced light that was rechargeable and had an amber light option. Buglio and Sullivan spoke to some overseas manufacturers and the "Indie Beacon was born."

Box design, they continued, began in February of this year and production started in March. The Covid-19 pandemic underscored the need for indie booksellers to support each other, and "making the Indie Beacon a give-back product was a no-brainer for us."

More details on the Indie Beacon Book Light can be found here.


University of California Press: Dictee (Second Edition, Reissue, Restored);  Exilee and Temps Morts: Selected Works (First Edition, Reissue) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha


International Update: Aussie Indie Bookshops a Success Story; New Publisher at McClelland & Stewart

The Book Room, Byron Bay

"It's impossible to overstate the importance of booksellers in turning a book into a bestseller," the Australian Society of Authors noted in a piece headlined: "How to support your local indie bookshop."

The country's independent bookshop scene "is an unquestionable success story; while in other countries many indie bookshops have fallen prey to online conglomerates like Amazon and chain stores, Australian indies have maintained a strong presence," ASA continued. "Yet, in light of the challenges posed by the pandemic, including overwhelming competition in the online space, it's important to ask what authors and illustrators can do to help keep the indie bookshop scene thriving, and to support the booksellers who support them."

Bookseller John Mitchell of the Book Room in Byron Bay said indies "are the veritable well of a local community. Strong indie bookshops reflect a strong local community and vice-versa. For those of us that see local community as fundamental to the healthy functioning of humanity, there is an imperative to ensure the continuance of local bookshops."

Author and bookseller Jaclyn Crupi of Hill of Content in Melbourne observed: "I feel incredibly fortunate to have been so warmly supported by so many indie bookshops and booksellers. I'm often trying to think of ways I can return that support.... I think one of the most meaningful things Australian authors and illustrators can do to support indie bookshops is to link and direct pre-order sales to indies.... It's a simple gesture to throw some love to your local indies from the outset and when booksellers see those pre-orders come through it does get noticed. The same goes for once your book is published."

David Gaunt, owner of Sydney's GleeBooks, advised authors to build and maintain strong relationships with their local indie booksellers: "It's genuinely special for a bookshop to think they helped in the process of building an author or illustrator's career. Chain bookstores can't do that because decisions get made in head office about which books will be scaled out, and that sort of thing. So make a personal connection with your local booksellers."

--- 

Stephanie Sinclair

Stephanie Sinclair will take on the role of publisher, McClelland & Stewart and Hazlitt, v-p, Penguin Random House Canada, effective October 3. Currently a literary agent at CookeMcDermid Literary Management, she succeeds Jared Bland, who, after six years as publisher of McClelland & Stewart, is stepping down from his role to move into the newly created position of v-p, communications and community, working across Penguin Random House Canada. Bland is overseeing M&S in addition to his new responsibilities until October, after which he will continue to work with a small list of authors as an editor-at-large for M&S.

Sinclair, who identifies as Cree, Ojibwe and German/Jewish settler, has worked for more than 20 years in the performing and creative arts, and began her agenting career at Transatlantic Literary Agency in 2012. 

Kristin Cochrane, CEO of PRH Canada, said: "The last six years at McClelland & Stewart have been a time of remarkable creative, critical, and commercial success, and while I was surprised by Jared's decision to step down, I respect his thinking and look forward to close partnership with him in his new role. And I am absolutely delighted to name as his successor the extraordinary Stephanie Sinclair.... While Stephanie inherits an M&S that is in an incredibly healthy position, I know she will continue to build, shape, and expand its footprint in Canada and internationally, with an acute sense of the positive change the written word can make in the world. Her historic appointment is a proud moment for the country's oldest and most celebrated publisher."

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Posted on Instagram by British bookseller Red Lion Books in Colchester: "It's so gorgeous well done, another piece of window fantabulousness @newview_by_sophiemann." --Robert Gray


Blair: A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter by Carolyn Hays


Obituary Note: Ronni Solbert 

Ronni Solbert in 2009
(photo: Jessamyn West)

Ronni Solbert, an artist whose "joyful illustrations" helped make The Pushcart War--a children's novel about peaceful resistance to injustice, written by her partner, Jean Merrill--a classic, died June 9, the New York Times reported. She was 96. Solbert's illustrations, "at once urbane and emotional, very much in the vein of midcentury New Yorker cartoons, were likely to have contributed to its rapid elevation into the pantheon of children's literature." Merrill died in 2012.

In 1961, Solbert and Merrill were living on the north side of Tompkins Square Park, in Manhattan's East Village. When the Parks Department "announced plans to tear out many of the park's benches, chess tables and centenarian trees to make room for a softball field, the neighbors rose in opposition, writing letters, organizing protests and forming the Committee for the Preservation of Tompkins Square Park," the Times noted. The local activism helped inspire Solbert and Merrill to create a young adult novel. 

In 2014, Solbert told the Valley News in Vermont, where she and Merrill had moved in 1970, that they had already published several books together and would collaborate on 18 in all, but The Pushcart War (1964) was their greatest achievement. 

Among the many fans of The Pushcart War was the playwright Tony Kushner, who at one point hoped to adapt it as a screenplay and later wrote a blurb for an edition published by New York Review Books in 2014. "The book gave me a point of entrance--my first, I imagine--into the world of resistance to political and economic injustice and chicanery," he wrote. "It made opposition, even nonviolent civil disobedience, seem fun and right and necessary and heroic, and something even someone as powerless as a kid could and should undertake."

As a painter, Solbert "was fairly successful, with 17 of her works included in the Museum of Modern Art's 'New Talent' exhibition in 1959," the Times wrote. She had also started illustrating children's books. Solbert met Merrill soon after arriving in New York. They released their first book together, Henry the Hand-Painted Mouse, in 1951, and went on to collaborate on 17 more, including The Black Sheep (1969). In addition to writing three books of her own, she also illustrated the poet Gwendolyn Brooks's Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956) and The Two Runaways by Aline Havard (1959). 

"Art is my sanity, joy, frustration and passion," Solbert wrote in an artist's statement. "My subject is the human animal, our relationship with each other and to the world we inhabit. I want the work to invite reflection, open perspectives and challenge the viewers' emotional and intellectual responses."


Graphic Mundi - Psu Press: Hakim's Odyssey by Fabien Toulme and Hanna Chute


Notes

Image of the Day: Beer for a Good Cause in Maine

Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine; Banded Brewing Co.; and Elements: Books, Coffee, Beer in Biddeford, Maine, combined forces to release "Left on Read" a Belgian Witbier featuring hints of orange and ginger. The beer was inspired by Banded Beer + Book Club, an ongoing series at the Banded breweries run by Rachael Conrad, Print: A Bookstore's event coordinator, at the Portland location and by Elements and Carol Linn Powell at the Biddeford location. The three teams met at Banded's Portland location a few weeks ago to brew this recipe (created by Banded's head brewer, Sean Redmond). A portion of sales from Left on Read will benefit I'm Your Neighbor Books, a nonprofit organization that helps build welcoming communities for immigrants through children's literature.


Bookseller Moment: Next Chapter Booksellers

Next Chapter Booksellers, St. Paul, Minn.: "The heavy rains yesterday coincided with an electrical issue that took out both our speaker system and an entire wall of lights, so between the rain, the dimness, and the silence it's been somewhat Gothic in here. We'll have everything fixed soon, but in the meantime, come soak up some gloomy vibes!"


Personnel Changes at Spiegel & Grau

At Spiegel & Grau:

Nicole Dewey has been named publishing director. She will continue to run her PR firm, Dewey Media Group.

Stephan Moore has been named senior marketing manager. Moore formerly was marketing manager at Pushkin Industries and earlier held marketing positions at Audible and Sony.

Nora Rose Tomas will join the company as a marketing and publicity assistant, effective August 15.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz on Here & Now

Today:
Today Show: Nikki Erlick, author of The Measure: A Novel (Morrow, $28.99, 9780063204201).

NPR's Here & Now: Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz, authors of American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry (Twelve, $30, 9781538737200).

Tomorrow:
CBS Mornings: Danica McKellar, author of Double Puppy Trouble (Crown Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 9781101933862).

Today Show: Bobby Bones, author of Stanley the Dog: The First Day of School (HarperCollins, $18.99, 9780063039520).

Fresh Air: Cory Silverberg, co-author of You Know, Sex: Bodies, Gender, Puberty, and Other Things (Triangle Square, $29.95, 9781644210802).

Tamron Hall repeat: Chrishell Stause, author of Under Construction: Because Living My Best Life Took a Little Work (Gallery, $28.99, 9781982186258).


TV: The Sandman

Netflix has released the first full trailer for The Sandman, a 10-episode series starring Tom Sturridge and based on the DC Comics series by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg, Deadline reported. Produced by Warner Bros. Television, the project was developed and executive produced by Gaiman, showrunner Allan Heinberg and David S. Goyer. It starts streaming August 5 on Netflix.

The cast also includes Boyd Holbrook, Patton Oswalt, Vivienne Acheampong, Gwendoline Christie, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, David Thewlis, Stephen Fry, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park, Donna Preston, Vanesu Samunyai (fka Kyo Ra), John Cameron Mitchell, Asim Chaudhry, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joely Richardson, Niamh Walsh, Sandra James-Young and Razane Jammal.

"For well over 30 years, my part in Sandman adaptations was just to try and stop bad ones from happening," Gaiman said. "And fortunately, I was always successful in this.... The determination everywhere to make this and get it right has been absolutely a breath of fresh air. This is Sandman being made for people who love Sandman, by people who love Sandman, and that is so incredible for me. It's been so special. I feel like I'm on the cusp, and I cannot wait until people see this show."



Books & Authors

Awards: Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Winner; Polari Longlists

Slough House by Mick Herron has won the £3,000 (about $3,600) 2022 Harrogate Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox was "highly commended," and Michael Connelly won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award for his writing career.

Organizers said Slough House "manages to combine intrigue, peril and humour in a deft exploration of international espionage."

The Guardian described the book as "the seventh instalment in [Herron's] series of the same name, which follows a band of failed spies. In the book, a new populist movement is taking hold on London's streets, and the spies find themselves on the run in the aftermath of a blunder by the Russian secret service that left a British citizen dead."

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Longlists for the three 2022 Polari Prizes, which include first book and children's and YA, a category added this year, have been announced and can be seen here. The Polari Prizes honor LGBTQ+ literature, and this year's nominees include, organizers said, "memoir, fiction, and a significant number of poetry collections," many from independent publishers.


Top Library Recommended Titles for August

LibraryReads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, offers the top 10 August titles public library staff across the country love:

Top Pick
Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood (Berkley, $17, 9780593336847). "Bee's worked hard to get her big break leading a NASA project. However, she learns that she'll be working with Levi, an old acquaintance who detests her. Or does he? Hazelwood's done it again with another fantastic romance filled with the real-world struggles of being a woman in STEM. For fans of Helen Hoang and Christina Lauren." --Brenna Timm, High Plains Library District, Greeley, Colo.

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager, $27.99, 9780063021426). "What power do words really have? Kuang explores this question in a unique standalone fantasy where a magical system drawn from translation and silverwork fuels colonialism. With beautiful writing and well-developed characters, this is a fabulous book. For readers of Katherine Addison, Zen Cho and N.K. Jemisin." --Danielle Deaver, Montgomery County Public Libraries, Bethesda, Md.

The Couple at Number 9: A Novel by Claire Douglas (Harper, $26.99, 9780063246324). "Pregnant Saffy and her partner Tom are thrilled when her ailing grandmother gives them a cottage to make their home--until they find two bodies buried on the property. Featuring multiple points of view and realistic characters, the latest twisty thriller from Douglas will appeal to fans of taut page-turners like The Turn of the Key and The Guest List." --Amy Medeiros, Westport Free Public Library, Westport, Mass.

Daisy Darker: A Novel by Alice Feeney (‎Flatiron, $28.99, 9781250843937). "Darker isn't just Daisy's surname: it's the mood of this closed-room mystery as Daisy's family members die one by one at a remote island home. Deftly told, this nod to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None mixes suspense and secrets with heartbreaking and poignant observations about family and childhood." --Jennifer Ohzourk, West Des Moines Public Library, West Des Moines, Iowa

The Hookup Plan by Farrah Rochon (Forever, $15.99, 9781538716687). "Dedicated pediatric surgeon London looks to de-stress through a no-strings-attached hookup with her former high school nemesis (and current millionaire) Drew. But Drew wants more than a one-night stand. London jumps off the page with her vibrant personality, and it's fun to see a man pursuing a woman in an enemies to lovers tale. For fans of Abby Jimenez and Talia Hibbert." --Hannah Spratt, New York Public Library, New York, N.Y.

Husband Material by Alexis Hall (‎Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15.99, 9781728250922). "Luc has grown up and feels the pressure to get married. Oliver is still a devoted boyfriend, but his problems are now acknowledged. It's great to see character development even in minor characters, and how they've progressed in the two years since Boyfriend Material." --Claire Sherman, Clearwater Countryside Library, Clearwater, Fla.

The Last Housewife: A Novel by Ashley Winstead (Sourcebooks Landmark, $27.99, 9781728229911). "When yet another of her college roommates turns up dead, Shay investigates with the help of her BFF true crime podcaster. Will Shay find answers in her past, which includes a misogynistic sex cult, or will she be lured back in? Psychological thriller fans, take this to the beach! For fans of I'll Be You or This Might Hurt." --Lori Hench, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, Md.

Other Birds: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250019868). "To keep a connection to her late mother, Zoey moves into her old apartment on Mallow Island, S.C. The complex and its residents are characters, too. This book is a quick and sweet read about the stages of love from the tickle of a spark to the longing its absence can bring." --Sara Schettler, Scottsdale Public Library, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Shutter by Ramona Emerson (Soho Crime, $25.95, 9781641293334). "Rita Todacheene, a crime scene photographer for the Albuquerque PD, can communicate with the dead. Her latest job involves a woman who allegedly killed herself... but she won't leave Rita alone. A cinematic thriller set on the edge of the Navajo Nation, Emerson's debut is a must-read." --Erin Downey Howerton, Wichita Public Library, Wichita, Kan.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna (Berkley, $17, 9780593439357). "Mika is one of the few witches secretly living in Britain when someone reaches out for help teaching three young witches. She becomes entangled in the lives of her pupils and the household, including the handsome yet grouchy librarian Jaime. A cozy romance for fans of The House in the Cerulean Sea." --Danielle Geiger, Brentwood Public Library, Brentwood, Tenn.


Book Review

Review: Must Read Well

Must Read Well by Ellen Pall (Bancroft Press, $27.95 hardcover, 284p., 9781610885423, September 13, 2022)

Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby and John Lutz's SWF Seeks Same had better scooch over to make room on the shelf for Ellen Pall's Must Read Well, all three novels being sturdy examples of a seductive subgenre: psychological suspense set in foreboding Manhattan apartments.

As Must Read Well opens, narrator Liz Miller is going through a rough patch: after four years as a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia, her dissertation is at a standstill, and a recent breakup means she needs a new apartment. So she's elated when she spots a Craigslist ad seeking a "quiet female willing to read aloud to purblind landlady one hour a day" in exchange for a cheap room in a Greenwich Village building. It's not just the prospect of the room that delights Liz. From the e-mail address provided, she knows exactly who placed the ad: Anne Taussig Weil, the reason for Liz's languishing dissertation.

Anne, who wrote a 1965 bestseller, is one of the three subjects of Liz's dissertation, "Inadvertent Feminists: Three Mid-Century Popular Female Novelists who Advanced the Cause of Women." But Anne is the only writer who refused to speak with Liz. According to Liz's dissertation adviser, the Anne Taussig Weil content is too "skimpy"; what Liz needs is more Anne material.

Without disclosing her previous effort to get in touch, Liz answers the ad and is offered the room after she reads aloud to Anne's satisfaction--the 89-year-old widow's vision is failing. After Liz moves in, Anne wants to revisit a decades-old "episode" recorded in her journals, which she keeps locked in a drawer. As the reading sessions proceed, Liz becomes convinced that the journal content would dazzle her review committee. If only Anne hadn't made Liz sign a nondisclosure agreement requiring her to keep the journals' contents under wraps.

It's a tantalizing premise with a slow-drip execution. Both narrative strands--the present day and the past recounted in Anne's journals--are closely observed and compelling (some readers may find the younger Anne's behavior exasperating). And Pall (Among the Ginzburgs; Back East) nimbly captures the stinging resignation of the post-glory-days artist, whose newer work is forever measured against the breakout project. But the chief pleasure of Must Read Well is the suspense generated by the question of how far the increasingly duplicitous Liz will go to get what she wants from Anne, who, it bears mentioning, isn't the naïf she once was. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: In this slow-drip suspense novel, a Ph.D. candidate hides her motive when she rents a room in the New York apartment of the woman who's standing in the way of her dissertation's completion.


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