Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Flatiron Books: The Last One at the Wedding by Jason Rekulak

Ace Books: Servant of Earth (The Shards of Magic) by Sarah Hawley

Ace Books: Toto by AJ Hackwith and The Village Library Demon-Hunting Society by CM Waggoner

Webtoon Unscrolled: Age Matters Volume Two by Enjelicious

St. Martin's Press:  How to Think Like Socrates: Ancient Philosophy as a Way of Life in the Modern World  by Donald J Robertson

Hanover Square Press: The Dallergut Dream Department Store (Original) by Miye Lee, Translated by Sandy Joosun Lee

Nosy Crow: Dungeon Runners: Hero Trial by Joe Todd-Stanton and Kieran Larwood

Andrews McMeel Publishing: A Haunted Road Atlas: Next Stop: More Chilling and Gruesome Tales from and That's Why We Drink by Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz


San Francisco's Alexander Book Company to Close

Alexander Book Company, San Francisco, Calif., will be closing after more than 30 years in business. The owners posted a message on the store's website noting, in part: "Alexander Book Company has had a great run, but we've finally reached the last chapter. Alexander's will be CLOSING. We love all you Readers of the San Francisco Bay Area. We've had 32 great years selling books." A closing date was not specified. 

"Perhaps more than most booksellers, the brick-walled, three-story Alexander Book Company has always been primarily oriented toward office workers: It's open Monday through Friday and closed on weekends," the San Francisco Standard reported. "As books have always been a reliable gift among colleagues and professional acquaintances, the store famously did a brisk business around the holidays. Although there have been signs of life for small businesses in and around the Financial District, the seemingly permanent shift to hybrid or remote work has clobbered San Francisco's entire Downtown core."

Literary journal ZYZZYVA Magazine tweeted: "Sad news for San Francisco: Alexander Book Company is closing its doors for good. The three-story independent shop has been a downtown cultural beacon for the past 32 years."

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Intermezzo by Sally Rooney

Berkeley's Eastwind Books Closing Storefront

Eastwind Books, Berkeley, Calif., the bookseller and publisher that has focused on Asian American literature, Asian studies, ethnic studies, language learning, traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts books, is closing its bricks-and-mortar store on April 30, Berkeleyside reported. Eastwind will continue to sell some books online, and Eastwind Books Multicultural Organization will continue to host events and publish books.

Owners Harvey and Beatrice Dong, who are in their 70s, cited a variety of reasons for closing the store, including the work needed to keep the store running at retirement age, needing to spend more time caring for aging parents, the pressures of Amazon and the pandemic, a rent increase last summer, and building costs charged by the landlord. The Dongs tried selling the store but didn't find a buyer.

Emphasizing the importance of the store for Asian American writers, activists and academics, Berkeleyside quoted New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu, who called Eastwind part of his education: "They stocked all the newest Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies books, at a time when those books were harder to find than they are now. It was the kind of place where you would always stumble into a great conversation, whether it was Harvey and Bea or another classmate whose professor had sent them to Eastwind for readings."

And for author Chenxing Han, her initial visit to Eastwind marked "the first time I'd ever considered the possibility that there were enough Asian American authors, and people who wanted to read them, to sustain a bookstore. Up to that point, though I loved to write, I never thought it would be possible for someone with a face and name like mine to publish a book that would one day sit on the shelves of libraries and bookstores."

The Dongs have a long history of activism going back to the 1960s and '70s, including supporting the antiwar and civil rights movements. Harvey was a member of the Asian American Political Alliance at Berkeley and helped push for the school's Asian American studies program. Beatrice was involved in organizing and helping workers in Chinese garment making factories. Also they were part of the fight to save the SRO International Hotel, mostly inhabited by the elderly and Filipino Americans, from demolition. Harvey Dong was one of 10 people who founded Everybody's Bookstore, an Asian American bookstore, in the basement of the International Hotel. The battle was ultimately lost in 1977, when all tenants and the bookstore were forcibly evicted.

Eastwind had been founded in 1982 and originally sold books in Chinese. The Dongs bought the store in 1996 and changed its focus.

PM Press: P Is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi, Illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

Blanco, Patchett, Whitehead & More Receive National Humanities Medals

President Biden presents the medal to Ann Patchett.

Yesterday, 12 writers, historians, educators, and activists were honored at the White House by President Biden, who presented them with National Humanities Medals. The 2021 National Medals of Arts were also presented at the same ceremony, marking Biden's first batch of awards for the arts and humanities due to delays prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The National Humanities Medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens' engagement with history or literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to cultural resources.

"The National Humanities Medal recipients have enriched our world through writing that moves and inspires us; scholarship that enlarges our understanding of the past; and through their dedication to educating, informing, and giving voice to communities and histories often overlooked," said National Endowment for the Humanities chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). "I am proud to join President Biden in recognizing these distinguished leaders for their outstanding contributions to our nation’s cultural life."

Among the writers receiving National Humanities Medals were: 

Richard Blanco, poet and author, whose "powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our Nation's highest ideals." 

Walter Isaacson, author,  whose "work, words, and wisdom bridge divides between science and the humanities and between opposing philosophies, elevating discourse and our understanding of who we are as a Nation."

Earl Lewis, social historian and academic leader, who "has made vital contributions to the field of Black history, educating generations of students, while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our Nation." 

Ann Patchett, author and bookseller, who through "her bestselling novels and essays, and her bookstore, readers from around the world see themselves in the pages of [her] books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation."

Amy Tan, author, whose "writing makes sense of the present through the past and adds ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature."

Tara Westover, author,  whose "memoirs of family, religion, and the transformative power of education, has moved millions of readers and served as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people--and a Nation--free."

Colson Whitehead, author, whose "celebrated novels make real the African American journey through our Nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and our ongoing march toward a more perfect Union."

International Update: British Indie Bookshop of the Year Shortlist; QBD Books' Expansion Plans in Australia

The British Book Awards unveiled the regional and country winners for the 2023 Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, which "celebrates those stores that continue to support their local communities with bespoke bookselling and tailored initiatives," the Bookseller reported. 

"Independent bookselling has come out of the other side of the pandemic at its healthiest point in decades; as a result our regional and country finalists for this year might be our strongest ever," said chair of the judges Tom Tivnan, the Bookseller's managing editor. "The through line is innovation as all of the winners have experimented with new ways to expand their businesses to get books into more readers' hands.... What has been really cheering is that this is consistent across the board from, not just the newer shops, but the concerns that have been trading successfully for decades. The great indie booksellers in Britain and Ireland never sit back, they are always pressing forward."

The nine regional and country winners are now in contention for the overall Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, which will be named May 15 at the British Book Awards ceremony in London. The country and regional winners are: Niche Comics Books, Huntingdon (East England); Halfway up the Stairs, Greystones (Island of Ireland), Nomad Books (London), the Rabbit Hole, Brigg (Midlands); Forum Books, Corbridge (North England); The Edinburgh Bookshop (Scotland); Mostly Books, Abingdon (South-East England); Storysmith, Bristol (South-West England); and Griffin Books, Penarth (Wales). 

Check out the rest of the Book Trade awards and the Book of the Year shortlists here.


Nicholas Croydon, CEO of Australian bookstore chain QBD Books, spoke recently with the Sydney Morning Herald about changing consumer book tastes and future plans for the company.  

During the Covid-19 pandemic, "business books did well as people start to think about starting businesses, as well as self-help and meditation, New Age and all that sort of thing--navel-gazing was really strong," he observed. "Now all that self-help and New Age, that's all gone. People have gone back to cooking, so cooking has had a bit of a revival, and just general fiction, people see that as entertainment."

Croydon also noted that the company, which is owned by a syndicate of investors including himself, JB Hi-Fi boss Terry Smart and founding partner of Next Capital Patrick Elliott, will launch its 17th store in Victoria, in Frankston's Bayside Shopping Centre on April 1, bringing the total store count to 86, with a target of 100 QBD bricks-and-mortar locations.

"The goal is to open three to four new stores a year, or expand existing ones, and the company is scouring the nation for the perfect retail sites where foot traffic is strong and shoppers are in want of a bookshop," the Morning Herald wrote.

He is less enthusiastic about online prospects, which soared during the lockdown years but now account for about 10% of QBD's sales, noting: "It is very hard to make a profit selling books online.... Online has its place, but it's very hard to browse; it's impossible to get advice. I think that's what sets us apart. It's not a sale. It's a kind of friendly discussion on what you're looking for and what you might enjoy."


Bookseller moment: Iron Dog Books, Vancouver, B.C., Canada: "Goodness, I could live in a day like today forever! The cold edge of the morning and the strengthening sun say asparagus and chives aren't far off, that there is camellia and magnolia to look forward to, that migratory birds are returning. I love days like today because I can feel slivers of the future, promising change and possibility. I love spring! It's a good day to get outside. If your walk brings you to the bookstore that's lovely, but more importantly I urge you to go outside and breathe in the sense of potential." --Robert Gray

Obituary Note: Isabel Colegate

British author Isabel Colegate, who "had her greatest success with The Shooting Party, published as a novel in 1980 and adapted into a film four years later," died March 12, the Guardian reported. She was 91. Like most of her 13 novels, The Shooting Party was set among the country-living English upper classes in the first half of the 20th century, which was "familiar home territory to Colegate, and although her writing never suggested she was inclined to tear down that privilege, she nevertheless sought to unravel the uneasy secrets of the grand English country house, often to a backdrop of war, politics and financial disarray."

In The Shooting Party, she "skillfully assembled a broad swathe of characters representing both the aristocrats of England in 1914 and those who served them," the Guardian noted. Colegate co-wrote the screenplay for the film, which featured a cast that included Dorothy Tutin, John Gielgud and James Mason. The book was also adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 2010, with Olivia Colman. The Shooting Party won a WH Smith literary award in 1981.

In 1952, Colegate went to work with the then literary agent Anthony Blond, a flamboyant figure who had just set up shop in London’s New Bond Street, while at the same time writing her first novel, The Blackmailer. When Blond became a publisher in 1958, it was one of the first books released by his new imprint. Her next two novels, A Man of Power (1960) and The Great Occasion (1962), were also published by Blond.

Then came Statues in a Garden (1964), "which to some extent foreshadowed The Shooting Party. Set during the summer of 1914 among the English aristocracy, Colegate exposed how sexual and financial shenanigans among the privileged and powerful led to disaster," the Guardian wrote.  

Orlando King (1969), Orlando at the Brazen Threshold (1971) and Agatha (1973) quickly followed. Her eighth novel was News from the City of the Sun (1979). She also published a short story collection, A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory (1985). Her last novel was Winter Journey (1995).

In 2002 her one nonfiction work and final book, A Pelican in the Wilderness, was published. In it, Colegate "delves into a wide-ranging cast of characters... in this case hermits and recluses of many vintages, from Saint Simeon Stylites to J.D. Salinger. She traveled widely for her research and used her observant eye to explore how history, religion and the natural world feature in the lives of her chosen figures."


Image of the Day: KJ Ramsey at Tattered Cover

Tattered Cover, Denver, Colo., hosted KJ Ramsey, author of The Book of Common Courage (Zondervan), at the Aspen Grove store. 

Cool Idea of the Day: Tarot Card Vending Machine

"Cool thing alert--we have a TAROT CARD VENDING MACHINE!" Copper Dog Books, Beverly, Mass., posted on Instagram. "For the low cost of $1, you can get a tarot reading from our vending machine. And the best part? We've stocked it with our favorite decks. (Erin Morgenstern's Phantomwise Tarot is in here!) Kick off spring with a tarot card reading!"

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Ari Shapiro on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Ari Shapiro, author of The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening (HarperOne, $28.99, 9780063221345).

Good Morning America: Oksana Masters, author of The Hard Parts: A Memoir of Courage and Triumph (Scribner, $28, 9781982185503).

Movies: Crying in H Mart

Actor Will Sharpe (The White Lotus Season 2) will direct Crying in H Mart, the 2021 memoir by Michelle Zauner, for MGM's Orion Pictures. Deadline reported that Zauner, the front woman for Grammy-nominated indie band Japanese Breakfast, is adapting the screenplay and playing a part in the creation of the film's music. Stacey Sher will produce alongside Jason Kim.

In addition to his acting credentials, Sharpe is also a writer, director and producer whose latest feature, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, was released in 2021. He more recently co-wrote, directed and exec produced the BAFTA-winning HBO/Sky series Landscapers, starring Olivia Colman and David Thewlis.

Books & Authors

Awards: BIO Winner; Griffin Poetry Longlist

Kitty Kelley has won the 2023 BIO Award, given by the Biographers International Organization to "a distinguished colleague who has made significant contributions to the art and craft of biography." BIO said in part, "Widely regarded as the foremost expert and author of unauthorized biography, Kelley has displayed courage and deftness in writing unvarnished accounts of some of the most powerful figures in politics, media, and popular culture."

Heather Clark, chair of the BIO Awards Committee, added, "The Awards committee is thrilled to recognize Kitty Kelley for her outstanding contributions to biography over nearly six decades. We admire her courage in speaking truth to power, and her determination to forge ahead with the story in the face of opposition from the powerful figures she holds accountable. The committee would also like to recognize Kitty's many years of service to BIO, especially her fundraising prowess and commitment to growing BIO's membership ranks. Kitty is a force of nature and a deeply inspiring figure who deserves the highest recognition from BIO for her contributions to advancing the art and craft of biography."

Kelley is the author of seven biographies: Oprah: A Biography (2010), The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty (2004), The Royals (1997), Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography (1991), His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra (1986), Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star (1981), and Jackie Oh! (1978). Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Newsweek, Ladies' Home Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times, the New Republic, the American Scholar and McCall's. She is a frequent contributor to the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Among awards Kelley has received: the 2005 PEN Oakland/Gary Webb Anti-Censorship Award; the 2014 Founders' Award for Career Achievement, given by the American Society of Journalists and Authors; and, in 2016, a Lifetime Achievement Award, given by the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Kelley will be the keynote speaker at the BIO conference on May 20.


A longlist has been released for the 2023 Griffin Poetry Prize. Judges Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia), Gregory Scofield (Canada) and Natasha Trethewey (U.S.) each read 602 books of poetry, including 54 translations from 20 languages, submitted by 229 publishers from 20 countries.

The shortlist will be announced April 19 and a winner named June 7 at the Griffin Poetry Prize Readings in Toronto. The winner receives C$130,000 (about US$94,710), while the other shortlisted authors each get C$10,000 (about US$7,285).

Reading with... Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

photo: Tapu Javeri

Born and raised in Việt Nam, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is the author of The Mountains Sing, runner-up for the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and winner of the 2020 BookBrowse Best Debut Award, the 2021 International Book Award for Literary Fiction, the 2021 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship for Fiction. She has published 12 books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction in Vietnamese and English. Her writing has been translated into 20 languages and has appeared in the New York Times and other publications. She has a Ph.D. in creative writing and was named by Forbes Việt Nam one of 20 inspiring women of 2021. Her novel Dust Child (Algonquin Books) was inspired by the American veterans returning to Việt Nam to search for the Vietnamese women they once loved and the Americasian children they left behind.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Set in Việt Nam, Dust Child is a suspenseful saga about family secrets, romance, hidden trauma and the overriding power of forgiveness.

On your nightstand now:

On my bedside table are these magnificent books which I have just finished reading and writing a blurb for: Banyan Moon by Thao Thai, The Book of Everlasting Things by Aanchal Malhotra, The Moon Represents My Heart by Pim Wangtechawat, The Paris Daughter by Kristin Harmel and Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes. The writers are women from different backgrounds, and I highly recommend their new novels.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Dế mèn phiêu lưu ký (The Adventures of a Cricket) by Tô Hoài, a favorite Vietnamese author of mine. I featured this book in my debut novel, The Mountains Sing. I often reread it with my children, as it fueled my imagination and inspired me to become a writer.

Your top five authors:

Margaret Atwood for her wit, her writing, her bravery and her contribution to humanity; Viet Thanh Nguyen for his groundbreaking work with The Sympathizer and many things he has done to uplift minority writers via his nonprofit DVAN (Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network); Elif Shafak for her commitment to and advocacy for human rights issues via her many novels including The Island of Missing Trees and 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World; Thi Bui for her beautiful writing and illustrations in The Best We Could Do and her advocacy for refugees; Kristin Harmel, whose novels, including The Book of Lost Names and The Forest of Vanishing Stars, are among my favorites and who is bravely sharing her cancer treatment journey to encourage others to take better care of their health.

Book you've faked reading:

I grew up in Việt Nam and had to read a lot of propaganda books for school. I often skimmed through them just to be able to pass the required tests, or I faked reading them if I could.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Any book by Master Thích Nhất Hạnh (Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices; The Miracle of Mindfulness; Peace Is Every Step; The Art of LivingSilence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise). They are life-changing and inspire us to live with love, care, empathy and compassion.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I am not sure I have ever bought a book by the look of its cover alone. I am a global nomad and need to be careful about which books I can bring along with me, so I often stand at a bookshop reading the first chapter of a book before deciding to buy it. I always have a long reading list based on recommendations, so these days I rarely buy a book which I haven't heard about.

Book you hid from your parents:

I grew up in Việt Nam during the American embargo, and we didn't have access to many books. There was no library I could visit. My parents have always been hungry readers, so they used our little money to buy whatever books were available at that time. I read some of them so often until the covers fell off, and my father had to use cardboard to make new covers for these books. Books were precious to us, and we shared everything we had. There was no secret between my parents and me when it came to books, and I was grateful for that since it brought me close to my parents.

Book that changed your life:

Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by the Vietnamese Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh. Life is demanding and can be overwhelming. This book reminds me every day about the importance of being present and to appreciate the smallest moment of joy, to spread love and peace and positive energy to the people around me.

Favorite line from a book:

"In the moments of difficulty, I hold on to a line of poetry and pull myself up." --Phùng Quán, a favorite Vietnamese poet of mine.

Five books you'll never part with:

I have been living the life of a nomad due to my husband's job. We moved from Việt Nam to Bangladesh, the Philippines, Belgium, Indonesia, and now we are in Kyrgyzstan. I have hundreds of books that I can never part with. (I carry them from one country to the next.) My list of books I'll never part with is long but if I must choose five, here they are: the Bible, The Tale of Kiều (a Vietnamese epic written in 3,254 lines of poetry by Nguyễn Du), Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Forthcoming books you are excited about:

I am, with the Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, a member of the editorial board of DVAN's publishing series. We publish books about the diasporic Vietnamese experience in order to fight against invisibility and reclaim representation on our own terms. Collaborating with independent and university presses, we spotlight emerging and innovative writers to show the diversity and complexity of the literature of the Southeast Asian diaspora. I am very excited that we are publishing titles such as Hà Nội at Midnight (a short story collection by Bảo Ninh, the acclaimed author of The Sorrow of War), Nothing Follows (a poetry collection by Lan Duong) and Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose (the 25th anniversary edition). Another forthcoming title is On Being a Writer: Vietnamese Diasporas in Dialogue, which brings together writers and poets from different countries to speak with each other about issues that are important to us as writers. This book will be the first of its kind to engage a global perspective on the plurality of the Vietnamese diasporic experience and imaginaries.

Book Review

YA Review: Imogen, Obviously

Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, $19.99 hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9780063045873, May 2, 2023)

Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; Kate in Waiting) is known for her warm and insightful stories about queer teenagers finding self-acceptance and first love. Her sixth solo novel, Imogen, Obviously, is both a sparkling romance and a moving account of a young woman's very contemporary bisexual awakening.

Eighteen-year-old Imogen Scott is "hopelessly, blindingly, obviously straight." She tries her best to be a "capital-A Ally" to her friends and queer younger sister but is nervous about visiting her "Brazilian pansexual" friend, Lili, at college. Lili further complicates matters by revealing that she told her new, cool queer friends that she and Imogen used to date. Although Imogen is nervous, she agrees to pretend to be Lili's bisexual ex for the weekend. Then Imogen meets dark-haired lesbian Tessa, who has "Winona Ryder eyes" and "Clea DuVall freckles" and feels an instant attraction. A single weekend makes Imogen question if her sexuality might not be so obvious after all.

Imogen is anxious and introspective, and her development of a greater sense of self-confidence feels both satisfying and earned. Her electric chemistry and easy rapport with Tessa create an engrossing whirlwind romance, even as much of the story takes place inside Imogen's head. Albertalli beautifully describes the experience of falling in love for the first time--"it's like daybreak" for Imogen when she and Tessa make eye contact.

Imogen, Obviously portrays the Internet era nature of discrimination against bisexual women through the eyes of one such young woman. Imogen knows that her doubts about her sexuality are "what internalized biphobia sounds like": What if she is a "pick-me straight girl appropriating queerness" for attention? "If I were queer," she wonders, "wouldn't I at least sort of know?" Albertalli gives equal time and depth to Gretchen, Imogen's bisexual friend who has a rigid understanding of Imogen as "the token straight." Gretchen is a complex character and Albertalli ensures that readers understand how Gretchen's own traumatic experiences with discrimination shape her callous dismissal of Imogen's feelings.

Albertalli empathetically considers the nuance of queer identity and the harm caused by gatekeeping who is allowed to identify as LGBTQ+. As Imogen says, "no two people seem to do queerness in the same way." Imogen, Obviously is a deeply personal novel about queerness in all its colorful complexity and a rallying cry to "hold space for variation" in the LGBTQ+ community. --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: A teenage girl falls in love during a weekend college visit and begins to question the assumptions she holds about her sexuality in this stirring YA contemporary novel.

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