Shelf Awareness for Monday, March 27, 2023

 Kokila: Everything We Never Had by Randy Ribay

Nancy Paulsen Books: Sync by Ellen Hopkins

Running Press Adult: Cat People by Hannah Hillam

Beaming Books: Must-Have Autumn Reads for Your Shelf!

Dial Press: Like Mother, Like Mother by Susan Rieger

Severn House: A Messy Murder (Main) (The Decluttering Mysteries #4) by Simon Brett

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron


Beth Wagner Joining N.H.'s White Birch Books as Co-Owner

Beth Wagner (l.) and Laura Cummings at White Birch Books

Beth Wagner, general manager of Phoenix Books, which has three locations in Vermont, is joining White Birch Books, North Conway, N.H., as co-owner, with Laura Cummings, who has worked at White Birch since 2000 and owned it since 2005.

Wagner plans to move to the North Conway area in June. She has been a bookseller since 2000, when she was hired part-time at the Book Rack and Children's Pages in Winooski, Vt. At Phoenix, her roles have included assistant manager, children's book buyer and adult book buyer. She was named general manager in 2020.

"While visiting the area in the fall of 2021, I stopped by White Birch to say hi to Laura," Wagner recalled. "I immediately fell in love with the store and impulsively announced that I wanted to own it someday. She said, 'Great, because I want to sell it to you someday.' We quickly realized that the traditional path wouldn't suit us, and that we were meant to be business partners."

Both Wagner and Cummings are recent presidents of the New England Independent Booksellers Association and got to know each other while working on the NEIBA board.

"A NEIBA panel on succession planning inspired me to look at creative ways of considering the next chapter for White Birch," Cummings said. "Bringing on a partner now will ensure the future health and legacy of the store and allow me to step away when I feel ready."

NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson added, "In this challenging time for independent bookstores, it's heartening to see a partnership like this. Not only is it creative succession planning on Laura Cummings' part--something we at NEIBA hope will happen for every store contemplating an ownership change--but it's also wonderful to watch Beth Wagner continue to show the region's booksellers all the ways to build a career in this industry. Both Laura and Beth have been tireless in their service to NEIBA, and I'm delighted that they will continue to instruct and inspire booksellers in New England and beyond from under the roof of the same store."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Restaurant of Lost Recipes (A Kamogawa Food Detectives Novel) by Hisashi Kashiwai, Translated by Jesse Kirkwood

FBI Spied on Chicago's Pilsen Community Books

The FBI considered Pilsen Community Books, a worker-owned bookseller in Chicago, Ill., to be "a meeting place for 'anarchist violent extremists, or 'AVEs,' environmental violent extremists, or 'EVEs' and pro-abortion extremists," Lit Hub reported, citing nearly 30 pages of documents acquired by Unicorn Riot that reveal a pattern of the FBI monitoring the bookstore. 

"That's news to us!" Mandy Medley, one of the owner-workers, told Unicorn Riot when informed the FBI believes the store to be a hotbed for terror plots and "pro-abortion extremists." Medley added: "We're open to the public, open to the community. Everything is very much out there in terms of what we believe and what we do. I was shocked that the FBI would be interested in us this way."

The 30-page FBI document goes on to cite leftist "planning and networking" and mentions a May 2022 incident in which a 'Mexican American female state trooper was told to leave the store'.... The report is also concerned about Chicago-area anti-cop protests related to the Atlanta resistance movement against 'Cop City,' " Lit Hub noted

Regarding the "pro-abortion extremists" accusation, Medley observed: "It's really creepy that they call a bunch of socialist feminists who are painting signs and banners for a rally that [Governor] Pritzker spoke at 'anti-abortion extremists.' " 

Pilsen Community Books tweeted: "The FBI won't intimidate us, and they won't stop all the brave folks organizing on the ground for a better world."

Harpervia: Only Here, Only Now by Tom Newlands

Jane O'Connor Retiring from Penguin After 33 Years

Jane O'Connor

Jane O'Connor, v-p and editor-at-large at Grosset & Dunlap and an author, is retiring in April after 33 years at Penguin.

In a message to staff, Francesco Sedita, president, Penguin Young Readers, wrote in part that O'Connor has had "a long and impactful career in children's publishing. A true visionary, over the course of her career she has launched careers and built trendsetting brands that have shaped the landscape of kids' books....

"We will miss Jane, and her incredible work. But what we will most miss is her generosity of spirit, her sharp sense of humor--and her commitment to getting children to read. As she said to me, 'Really my whole career in and outside of the office has been aimed at getting children to love books. It's as simple as that.' "

O'Connor  began her career as an editor at Scholastic's K-1 Book Club and in 1984 joined Random House Children's Books, where she became editor-in-chief. She moved to Penguin, where she was v-p and publisher of Grosset & Dunlap. When Price Stern Sloan was purchased by Putnam in the 1990s, she became president of mass market publishing.

O'Connor is the author of more than 30 books for children, including the Fancy Nancy series and the Nina, Nina Ballerina stories, as well as two adult books. (A third is on the way.)

Obituary Note: Patrick French

Patrick French

British historian and biographer Patrick French, whose books include acclaimed accounts of India's march toward independence and the life of the writer V.S. Naipaul, died March 16, the New York Times reported. He was 56. French "made an impression with his first book, published when he was still in his 20s. Titled Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), it examined the life of Francis Edward Younghusband, the British adventurer who explored Tibet and other areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

In 1997, the 50th anniversary of India's independence, French published Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division, "a book rich in archival research that challenged established views of events and the key figures in them, including offering a less than hagiographic portrait of Gandhi," the Times wrote.

Historian William Dalrymple, who had known French since childhood, said, "He was one of the few British writers on imperial Indian history widely loved and respected in India. His modesty, warmth, openness, generosity, deep sympathy with India and profound skepticism and suspicion about the British Empire meant he was able successfully to explain Britain to Indians and India to the British."

French's books include Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land (2003), The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul (2008), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography; and India: A Portrait (2011).

Dalrymple described French as "always funny and clever and irreverent and charming, full of enthusiasm and energy, as well as a fabulous raconteur and an even better writer. He had a wonderful sense of humor and an even more acute sense of the absurd that made him a natural skeptic about everything he had grown up with: the army (his father was a soldier), the Catholic Church (the faith of his parents), the British class system (the backbone of the English public school system, where he was educated). He rejected all of it."

In 2003, French was offered the royal honor of Order of the British Empire. He turned it down, telling the Daily Telegraph that he was bothered by the motto of the order, "For God and the Empire," adding that he thought it might be seen as compromising: "If you are a businessman, it's OK, but as a writer on South Asia, I wanted to be seen to have an independent voice."


Image of the Day: Matthew Desmond at Midtown Scholar

Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pa., hosted Pulitzer Prize-winner Matthew Desmond (r.) in conversation with Pennsylvania state representative Malcolm Kenyatta for Desmond's book Poverty, by America (Crown).

Happy 5th Birthday, Silver Unicorn Bookstore!

Congratulations to the Silver Unicorn Bookstore, Acton, Mass., which marked its fifth anniversary this past weekend.

Founder and owner Paul Swydan has celebrated in part by creating a photo collage of nearly all the booksellers--plus a few others who are like family--who have worked at the store. As he wrote in an e-mail to customers, they are "the people who have looked at me and decided that I wasn't crazy, and that working here might be a good time. The people who put up with my terrible jokes and odd choices. The people who step up and run the store seamlessly when I step away for vacation or to tend to a personal matter. The people who have helped me grow this bookshop from a complete unknown to one that is considered among the best in the state. The people that I have the privilege of working with here are everything."

He also offered "some nerdy data stuff": a list called "the 100-copy club"--titles that the store has sold 100 or more copies of during the past five years. Strikingly, more than 200 books are on the list, which our data calculation says means that the Silver Unicorn has sold at least 20,000 copies of these titles. Congratulations again!

Personnel Changes at Chronicle Books

At Chronicle Books:

Vanessa Navarrete has been promoted to senior client account manager.

Jonah Thedorff has been hired as sales coordinator.

April Roberts has been hired as associate publicist.

Cappy Yarbrough has been hired as publicity assistant.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jodi Picoult on Good Morning America

Good Morning America: Jodi Picoult, co-author of Mad Honey (Ballantine, $29.99, 9781984818386).

Today Show: Martin Fletcher, author of Teachers: The Ones I Can't Forget (Morgan James, $19.95, 9781636981079).

Today Show: Diane Marie Brown, author of Black Candle Women (Graydon House, $28.99, 9781525899911).

Tamron Hall: Amerie, author of You Will Do Great Things (‎Roaring Brook, $18.99, 9781250817020).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Alison Roman, author of Sweet Enough: A Dessert Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $35, 9781984826398).

Late Night with Seth Meyers: Jessi Klein, author of I'll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood (Harper Perennial, $18.99, 9780062981608).

Movies: Eileen

Neon has landed the North American distribution rights to Eileen, the film based on Ottessa Moshfegh's 2015 novel that "was considered one of the hotter and more acclaimed titles" out of the Sundance Film Festival, IndieWire reported.

Directed by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth), the project stars Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland and Owen Teague. Moshfegh adapted Eileen alongside Luke Goebel. The film was produced by Fifth Season, Likely Story's Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu, and Peter Cron, along with Goebel and Moshfegh's Omniscient Productions, William Oldroyd, and with backing from Film4. It will be released theatrically this fall.

"It's a thrill to have Neon on board and give this film a platform to reach a wide audience. This production has been a labor of love, from collaborating with Ottessa and Luke to the exceptionally talented actors and crew," said Oldroyd. "Neon are the perfect partners and we look forward to working with them."

"Seeing my book come to life on screen has always been a career goal. The premiere at Sundance was a beautiful glimpse of what is to come," said Moshfegh.

Books & Authors

Awards: New-York Historical Society's Zalaznick Winner; New York Public Library Bernstein Finalists

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage (Viking) has won the $50,000 New-York Historical Society's Barbara and David Zalaznick Book Prize in American History, which recognizes "the best book of the year in the field of American history or biography."

Organizers said that G-Man "draws from never-before-seen sources to create a groundbreaking portrait of a colossus who dominated half a century of American history and planted the seeds for much of today's conservative political landscape. The book explores the full sweep of Hoover's life and career, from his birth in 1895 to a modest Washington civil-service family through his death in 1972. Gage shows how Hoover was more than a one-dimensional tyrant and schemer who strong-armed the rest of the country into submission. G-Man places Hoover back where he once stood in American political history--not at the fringes but at the center--and uses his story to explain the trajectories of governance, policing, race, ideology, political culture, and federal power as they evolved over the course of the 20th century."

Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang, chair of the Society's board of trustees, compared reading G-Man with "viewing a chiaroscuro masterpiece painting. Gage deftly illuminates one of the most complicated personalities in modern American history through descriptive gradations of light and shadow--creating a full-fleshed portrait of complexity and gravitas."


Finalists have been selected for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, recognizing "non-fiction books penned by working journalists that bring attention and transparency to current events or societal issues of global or national significance." The winner, who receives $15,000, will be announced in May.

The finalists:
The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher (Little, Brown)
My Fourth Time We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World's Deadliest Migration Route by Sally Hayden (Melville House)
The Other Side of Prospect: A Story of Violence, Injustice, and the American City by Nicholas Dawidoff (Norton)
The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth by Ben Rawlence (St. Martin's Press)
Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of our Nation by Linda Villarosa (Doubleday)

Book Review

Review: You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir

You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith (One Signal/Atria, $28 hardcover, 320p., 9781982185855, April 11, 2023)

"This isn't a tell-all," poet Maggie Smith (Goldenrod; Keep Moving) writes in the opening pages of her brilliant, beautiful memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful. It can't be, she argues, because she is not an omniscient narrator, she cannot know all, and because some of what she offers in the pages that follow is, in fact, an account of what she does not know. It's a "tell-mine" instead, a version of the pain and hardship brought on by the dissolution of her marriage--but also found in the marriage itself, in a life spent making herself small enough to fit inside of an institution and a partner that did not serve her, not really, or offer room for growth and expansion. "I've had to move into--and through--the darkness to find the beauty."

You Could Make This Place Beautiful could easily be described as brutal in its telling. It is a brutal, and brutally honest, reflection on some of the lowest and hardest moments of Smith's life. But in that darkness, Smith finds--and shares--the promised beauty: in the soft fuzziness of her young son's earlobe, in learning to rollerblade during lockdown, in the cake dropped off by a neighbor on her first Christmas morning waking up without her kids. In these tellings, her memoir remains somehow soft in its brutality, yearning toward what is most human in us all: a desire to see and be seen, to understand and be understood. "I'm trying on so many metaphors, pushing toward understanding. I'm trying on so many lines written by others but through which I can see my own experience."

With an artist's eye for detail and a poet's way with words, Smith holds up the pain of her divorce and subsequent trials of forging a new life as a single mother. Within the context of this transformative time in her life, she offers readers glimpses of small moments of love and grief and joy and community and tears tucked in the crevices between large philosophies, belief systems and inheritances. The result is a memoir that is as much poetry as prose, a kaleidoscopic account of one woman's quest and questioning that will resonate with any reader, divorced or not, who has faced hardship, solitude or loss (or, particularly, all three). You Could Make This Place Beautiful makes a gift out of Smith's pain, tied up not in a neat bow, but offered with grace, humility and wonder as something to be treasured and held up gently, to see what it may reflect of ourselves when it touches the light. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Shelf Talker: A brilliant and beautiful memoir from poet Maggie Smith reflects on the pain of divorce, and the unexpected beauty found in (re)building a life after the dissolution of a dream.

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