Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 31, 2023

Mariner Books: Everyone This Christmas Has a Secret: A Festive Mystery by Benjamin Stevenson

Grove Press: Brightly Shining by Ingvild Rishøi, Translated Caroline Waight

Running Press Adult: Scam Goddess: Lessons from a Life of Cons, Grifts, and Schemes by Laci Mosley

Broadleaf Books: Trespass: Portraits of Unhoused Life, Love, and Understanding by Kim Watson

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


Car Smashes Into Newly Opened First Chapter Bookstore in Seneca, S.C.

On March 22, a car smashed through the front window of First Chapter, a used and new bookstore in Seneca, S.C.--just two weeks after the shop's grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony. Owner Taylor Reed told WYFF the store is temporarily closed but will host a grand reopening once repairs are made. 

"It was like it was slow motion," said Reed. "I was standing right over there, so I watched the car come through the shop, and it was like, 'oh, there's a car. What's going on?' and it truly was so surreal but not necessarily frightening because I knew instantly no one got hurt. The driver immediately got out of the vehicle, and so I'm just so thankful everyone was fine."

On the day of the accident, First Chapter posted on Facebook: "Thank you for all the messages, calls, and kindness on the street! First Chapter will be closed until we are able to repair all damages and get the shop in tip top shape for everyone! We will keep everyone posted. We are so so thankful no one was injured and everyone walked away. I also want to thank the Seneca Police Department and Fire Department! We have some wonderful folks serving our community who try to make every situation a little brighter with their humor and good nature."

Peachtree Teen: Compound Fracture by Andrew Joseph White

NYC's Village Works Moving to St. Mark's Place

Village Works' future home

Village Works, a gallery, bookstore and artist space in New York City, is relocating to 12 St. Mark's Place, where more space will allow for the addition of a café serving organic and vegan coffee, tea and more. Founder Joseph Sheridan had been looking for a new storefront after his lease at 90 E. Third St. was set to expire following an unsustainable rent increase. 

In an Instagram post, Village Works noted: "We found a new space and want to thank everyone for their support! This is what can happen when a forward thinking landlord, a community and a small independent business work together in making sure storefronts continue to flourish in NYC. Small businesses keep our streets vibrant and safe and are the reflection of individual dreams, instead of corporate needs."

Village Works, which is anticipating a May 1 grand opening, added: "We are doing this with no $ at all so are looking for working capital and would appreciate anything anyone can give to our GoFundMe... support our April long yard sale or through book donations. Appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve our community, while continuing our dream of a space reflecting NYC culture on the best street ever for that, St. Mark's Place! Thank you so much and may everyone else never give up and fulfill their own visions for themselves and their communities."

Inner Traditions: Expand your collection with these must-have resource books!

Your Christian Bookstore, Gastonia, N.C., Closing

Your Christian Bookstore in Gastonia, N.C., is closing after nearly 30 years in business, WCNC reported.

Owner Caretta Mclean opened the bookstore, which sells a variety of Christian books as well as supplies like choir robes, after she retired from her previous career as a lab technician. It is also the only Black-owned bookstore in Gastonia. Now she's ready to move on from bookselling and have time to "just sit down and do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it."

Mclean told WCNC that while she would like to find a buyer for the store, she's started clearing out the inventory and plans to close once that's complete.

"I'm going to miss it," she said. "I know I am. But the next chapter of my life is going to be better."

Obituary Note: D.M. Thomas

D.M. Thomas

British author, poet and scholar of Russian literature D.M. Thomas, "whose greatest success came with his controversial 1981 novel The White Hotel," died March 26, the Guardian reported. He was 88. Inspired by his readings of Sigmund Freud and by Anatoly Kuznetsov's Holocaust novel Babi Yar, The White Hotel "combined these two influences in a driving, non-naturalistic plot centered on Lisa Erdman, a fictional patient of Freud's, who progresses through sexual obsession to being shot down by Nazis in a ravine outside Kyiv."

Although the novel garnered praise "as a powerful new departure in fiction, and an insight into the dark heart of the 20th century," the Guardian noted that it was also attacked as pornographic and misogynistic. "In addition, Thomas was accused (a charge also leveled at his later novel Ararat) of plagiarizing his factual material from Kuznetsov: he defended himself by counter-charging the authors whose works he had plundered of wanting to 'copyright genocide.' " 

A runaway international bestseller, The White Hotel would lose the 1981 Booker Prize to Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. Thomas's other books include The Flute Player (1979), which won a Gollancz fantasy award; Ararat (1983); Eating Pavlova (1994); Flying in to Love (1992); and Memories and Hallucinations (1989). His biography Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life (1998) won the Orwell prize.

A respected poet, Thomas published eight collections before turning to fiction. "Much influenced by the Cornish landscape, his poetry had a mystic, Celtic tinge," the Guardian noted. He continued to publish poetry--including a verse memoir, A Child of Love and War (2021)--and prose, and ran a group of Cornish writers called the Stray Dogs, after a famous early 20th-century Russian literary cafe in St. Petersburg.

"Always readable and often compelling, none of the later novels quite achieved the white-hot shock of The White Hotel," the Guardian wrote. "Bolstered financially by selling the film rights--though frustratingly for Thomas the movie was never made--he returned to his native Cornwall, settling in a large house in Truro. Long after it was written, a screenplay by Dennis Potter was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2018."

Thomas "had huge vitality, a charismatic presence and considerable charm and humour. Into the often stifling and prissy world of English literature, he introduced a welcome raw honesty, an imaginative widening of limiting horizons, and a distinct whiff of sulphur," the Guardian noted.

Shelf Awareness Delivers Indie Pre-Order E-Blast

This past Wednesday, Shelf Awareness sent our monthly pre-order e-blast to nearly 950,000 of the country's best book readers. The e-blast went to 945,634 customers of 225 participating independent bookstores.

The mailing features 11 upcoming titles selected by Shelf Awareness editors and a sponsored title. Customers can buy these books via "pre-order" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on each sending store's website. A key feature is that bookstore partners can easily change title selections to best reflect the tastes of their customers and can customize the mailing with links, images and promotional copy of their own.

The pre-order e-blasts are sent the last Wednesday of each month; the next will go out on Wednesday, April 26. Stores interested in learning more can visit our program registration page or contact our partner program team via e-mail.

For a sample of the March pre-order e-blast, see this one from The Bookies, Denver, Colo.

The titles highlighted in the pre-order e-blast were:

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang (Morrow)
Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini (Tor)
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Pantheon)
Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum (Flatiron)
Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea (Little, Brown)
A History of Burning by Janika Oza (Grand Central)
100 Morning Treats by Sarah Kieffer (Chronicle)
Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane (Scribner)
Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby (Vintage)
The Sun and the Star by Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro (Disney)
The Books of Clash Volume 1: Legendary Legends of Legendarious Achievery by Gene Luen Yang, illus. by Les McClaine and Alison Acton (First Second)


Oren Teicher Honored by--and Honors--Library

Kerri Maher and Oren Teicher

The White Plains Library, White Plains, N.Y., recently honored former American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher at its Spring Gala, which celebrated the freedom to read and featured  special guest Kerri Maher, author of The Paris Bookseller (Berkley).

Teicher said, "I had the privilege of spending a good part of my professional life in and around books, and in the process got to know many booksellers, authors, publishers and librarians who by what they do every day contribute to opening the eyes of all of us. And, while it is true that sometimes we're exposed to things we don't like or subjects that offend us, in the end we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those whose lives are about opening doors, not closing them. So tonight I'd like to say a heartfelt thanks to all those who help insure that access to the widest range of ideas and images--no matter how controversial they may be--remains constant. You are doing indispensable work, and I urge you to keep at it!"

Image of the Day: An Evening of Romance at Quail Ridge Books

On Friday, March 24, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C., hosted an Evening of Romance with authors (from l.) Reese Ryan (A Cowboy Kind of Thing, Harlequin Desire), Annie Rains (The Good Luck Cafe, Forever) and Nancy Naigle (The Wedding Ranch, St. Martin's Griffin).

'Happy Opening Day to All the Baseball Lovers Out There'

Lion's Mouth Bookstore, Green Bay, Wis., celebrated Major League Baseball's opening day yesterday by sharing a photo of the shop's book display and noting: "Happy opening day to all the baseball lovers out there. While putting together this display, we found two tickets to a game from 2008 used as a bookmark in this used copy of The Best Game Ever--which of course makes us think that this reader brought their book along to the game with them. It's always fun to think of the life of a book before it makes it's way to us. These titles were curated based on recommendations from baseball historian Kurt Bergland's Baseball World, and we hope they'll bring you a new perspective on the history of game and its players as you gear up for the coming season!"

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sasha Velour on Good Morning America

Good Morning America: Sasha Velour, author of The Big Reveal: An Illustrated Manifesto of Drag (Harper, $45, 9780358508083).

Movies: Book Lovers

Tango will adapt Emily Henry's 2022 novel Book Lovers into a film, with Sarah Heyward attached to write the script. Deadline reported that Heyward is best known for her work writing and producing HBO's Emmy–winning Girls, for which she earned a WGA Award. 

Sony Pictures Classics recently acquired worldwide rights to Tango's film Shortcomings, Randall Park's feature directorial debut, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The film is based on Eisner-winning cartoonist Adrian Tomine's graphic novel.

Books & Authors

Awards: Whiting Winners

The winners of the $50,000 Whiting Awards, sponsored by the Whiting Foundation and given to 10 exceptional emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama, are:

Tommye Blount (poetry)
Mia Chung (drama)
Ama Codjoe (poetry)
Marcia Douglas (fiction)
Sidik Fofana (fiction)
Carribean Fragoza (fiction)
R. Kikuo Johnson (fiction-graphic)
Linda Kinstler (nonfiction)
Stephania Taladrid (nonfiction)
Emma Wippermann (poetry and drama)

Reading with... Alexandra Robbins

photo: Susan Hornyak

Alexandra Robbins's The Teachers: A Year Inside America's Most Vulnerable, Important Profession (Dutton) takes readers into the classroom with several teachers and reveals the experiences of hundreds more. The Teachers was named a 2023 "Must Read" by the Next Big Idea Club and a "Most Anticipated Book of 2023" by Kirkus, LitHub, Zibby Books and Professional Book Nerds, and has received three starred reviews. Robbins is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including Fraternity. A substitute teacher and investigative reporter, she has also been honored for Distinguished Service to Public Education.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

I followed three teachers for a year for a fast-paced, fiction-style story and interviewed hundreds of others to share what really goes on in schools.

On your nightstand now:

Erm, my giant TBR pile is basically teetering off my nightstand to the point where my husband told me just last week that it's a fire hazard. But the closest books to the top are How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz, which I'm looking forward to reading, and Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, which was so good I want to reread it.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My favorite book was the one I was reading; I devoured books. I distinctly remember reading a lot of Stephen King when I was about 12. During that period, I would beg my parents to walk me to the bathroom at night from my bedroom, because I was too scared to go by myself. Mkay, the bathroom was two feet away.

Your top five authors:

I'm pretty sure I used up all my word count on the five books question!

Book you've faked reading:

I think I'm pretty open about my DNFs--to friends at least. I'd rather admit I didn't read a book than pretend I did. Oh wait, one time in the early 2000s on the Delta shuttle from Washington, D.C., to New York, I was sitting in the aisle in front-row economy, so I pretended to read MY OWN BOOK to advertise it as the businesspeople and media types boarded the plane. But then a well-known reporter and TV personality whom I had done some work for boarded the plane, recognized me, and said, "Alex, why are you reading your own book?" So that happened.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Enchanting and magical with charming characters and a quirky story, The House in the Cerulean Sea is an endearing read that I have foisted on friends.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Guncle by Steven Rowley, which was just as entertaining as the cover suggests, and Please Don't Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes, because I feel you, Phoebe Robinson. Same, girl, same.

Book you hid from your parents:

Ha. I hid a ridiculous number of books in my lap under the table during dinners, because I couldn't bear to put them down. I was that kid.

Book that changed your life:

Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy changed my life, because I started reading it during a difficult, anxious time when I couldn't sleep. A doctor suggested I condense my sleep by staying up late so that perhaps I could sleep through the night instead of waking up at midnight with insomnia. I hadn't read a ton of fantasy before, but I decided to try escaping with fantasy before bed, so I'd stop overthinking at night. Not only did it work, but also it launched a lifelong habit: for years now, I've read at least an hour before bed every night. And the Farseer trilogy--the world, the characters, the stories, and the subplots--was incredible.

Favorite line from a book:

Oh, that's hard--there are so many. Here are two that struck me recently, both from Laurie Frankel's excellent One Two Three:

"We all choose the terms of the desperate bargains we make with the powers that may be, which baseless beliefs and decaying wisdoms we cling to, and which we discard as superstition or sorcery or the ravings of misguided zealots. Which is to say: it may not make sense all the way, but it makes sense enough."

I'll preface this one by explaining that misuse of the word literally is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I loved this quote: "Mrs. Lasserstein says I am being too literal, but there is no such thing as too literal. Literal does not come in degrees. That is like being too seventy-seven point four. That is like being too bicycle."

Five books you'll never part with:

Another tough one--how do I narrow this down? I'll just go with the first five off the top of my head: White Teeth by Zadie Smith, because wow. Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is astonishing. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and, in the same vein, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Agh, can't stop won't stop! The Nix by Nathan Hill. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. And all the titles mentioned in the answers to the questions above. And more, but I'll make myself stop now.

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

I'm going back to The House in the Cerulean Sea for this one, because I wish I could be surprised, delighted, and moved by those fantastic characters for the first time all over again.

You're a nonfiction writer. Why aren't there nonfiction books on your list?

I realized during that period of anxiety and insomnia that I couldn't read nonfiction books before bed, because they engaged my work brain too much. As I read them, I would analyze their structure, try to figure out how the authors conducted their reporting, attempt to trace the sourcing and citations, and then have a difficult time setting aside my work brain to go to sleep. I do read nonfiction books often for research and occasionally for pleasure--IF the book is character-driven with a fast-paced, engaging story. So that's the kind of nonfiction I strive to write: a book that reads like fiction and also leaves the reader feeling smarter and more informed about an important topic.

Book Review

Review: Kantika

Kantika by Elizabeth Graver (Metropolitan Books, $27.99 hardcover, 304p., 9781250869845, April 18, 2023)

Elizabeth Graver's epic fifth novel, Kantika, spans countries and continents, taking readers from Istanbul to Barcelona, then to Havana and finally to New York City. Graver's feisty protagonist, Rebecca Baruch Levy (née Cohen), is born into a wealthy, elite family, but faces multiple challenges with courage and grit as she carves out a life of her own.

Graver (The End of the Point) begins her novel in 1907, during "the beautiful time" in Constantinople, when Rebecca is a child attending the local French Catholic school and playing with her best friend, Rahelika. Her life is a mélange of Ladino and French, religion and superstition, delight and darkness; she is known in her community, provided for and loved. This idyll, of course, does not last; when World War I breaks out, the nuns' school closes abruptly and Rahelika's family leaves for the U.S. Nearly a decade later, Rebecca's family is also forced to flee their home city (now named Istanbul) for Barcelona, where her father, having gambled away much of his money and lost the rest, takes a lowly job as the cleaner of a synagogue. He is furious at being made to return to the land that chased his ancestors away, but his wife, Sultana, and his children, including Rebecca, adapt to the new life in their own ways. Graver skillfully portrays the effects of cataclysmic change on a family, the ways some people embrace changes and challenges, and others shrink from them--as well as the sheer ingenuity of some, like Rebecca, who will try nearly anything to survive and thrive.

After some years as a dressmaker in Barcelona and a first marriage that produces two sons but ends in widowhood, Rebecca embarks on an ocean voyage to Cuba, to marry Sam Levy, a man she has not yet met. When they arrive in New York City to begin their life together, Rebecca meets Sam's daughter, Luna. Motherless and severely disabled, but as stubborn as Rebecca herself, Luna will become Rebecca's nemesis, her constant companion and, eventually, something like her friend.

Graver crafts a compelling narrative with Rebecca at its center, weaving in threads of religion and history, feminism and family dynamics, passion and duty, survival and love. Ladino, Rebecca's mother tongue, is woven throughout the text in phrases and proverbs, and each section contains a family photo, at once enigmatic and enticing. "The past feels heavy, the present thin," Rebecca muses after Lika's departure for the U.S. The phrase is a fitting description for Graver's novel, where the weight of the past and the ephemeral nature of the present tangle together to create a bewitching whole. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Elizabeth Graver's complex, beautiful fifth novel follows a Sephardic Jewish woman as her life crosses multiple continents.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Book Folk Take Heart: AI Doesn't Get the Joke

Gary Shteyngart at Winter Institute

The very act of putting down your phone, turning off your Twitter, going to a bookstore, talking to a bookseller, and then being treated to a quiet, private space.... that becomes a political statement.

--Author Gary Shteyngart, in his 2018 keynote at Wi13 in Memphis, Tenn.

I've been thinking about Shteyngart's keynote lately, maybe since I wrote about ChatGPT last month. AI hasn't left my thoughts, thanks no doubt to unceasing and increasing media attention, driven I assume by algorithms that monitor how obsessed we already are about all things data-driven.

In the book world, thanks initially to Amazon and now, well, to everything, algorithms dictate the flow of our days in ways we can't or don't dare comprehend. An intimidating ocean of data surrounds our personal islands, and there's not much we can do except play on the virtual beach and avoid digital riptides. 

How do we play? Well, last week's e-newsletter from Print: A Bookstore in Portland Maine, considered asking ChatGPT a question: "Could it, for example, write a weekly bookstore newsletter?" The bookseller gave "our artificial pal a prompt that was just a dozen words long; write a 200 word newsletter for print: a bookstore in portland, maine." Here's what came back: 

Greetings, book lovers!

We at Portland Book Co. are excited to share our latest updates with you. Our independent bookstore is located in the heart of Portland, Maine, and we are proud to be part of this vibrant and supportive community.

We are constantly adding new titles to our shelves, with a wide range of genres including bestsellers, classics, poetry, and children's books. Our knowledgeable staff is always happy to recommend a book or two that we think you'll love.

We also host regular events at the store, including book signings, readings, and discussions. We have recently welcomed some amazing local authors to our store, and we are excited to continue to bring literary talent to our community.

At Portland Book Co., we believe that books are for everyone. That's why we have a diverse selection of titles that reflects the interests and experiences of our community. We also work closely with local schools and organizations to promote literacy and support reading initiatives in our area.

We are grateful for the support of our community, and we look forward to continuing to serve as your go-to destination for all things literary. Come by and see us soon!

The verdict from Print: "Y'know what? Not terrible. I mean, it didn't get the name of the store right, but otherwise it's pretty spot on, albeit a little generic.... As passable as the predictively generated text is, I'm not yet fearing for my job as a bookseller or a newsletter writer. It doesn't quite have the same je ne sais quoi or personality of a real human writer, and it doesn't capture the things that which make Print unique. That newsletter could be for any bookstore--no AI can nail what makes Print, or any independent bookstore, so special."

And there's the proverbial rub, for now at least. Shteyngart also hit an obstacle when wondering if ChatGPT could write book blurbs for him. 

"Blurbing is the oral sex of publishing, it's relatively safe and often reciprocal," he wrote in his Substack newsletter, Gary’s Journey Through Hell, this week. "I've blurbed hundreds of books and often got blurbed hard in response. Scrolling through Twitter one day, I found that someone had asked ChatGPT to blurb a novel in 'the style of Gary Shteyngart' and it had done a reasonable job. Could this be the answer to my prayers? I decided to find out."

Noting that he had recently written an enthusiastic blurb (which included the line "what Dostoyevsky might have written if he had been an American and also not a jerk") for a mystery novel, Shteyngart commanded AI write "a blurb in the style of Gary Shteyngart." He judged the result to be "not bad," and went back for something more specific: "Pretend you're Gary Shteyngart writing a blurb about a mystery."; and, finally, "Pretend you're Gary Shteyngart writing a blurb about a psychological family mystery."

Again, "not bad" was his verdict, though he noted that the absence of little human twists like his Dostoyevsky jerk joke showed ChatGPT's's limitations, adding: "Maybe that's the ultimate thing to be said for AI--it doesn't know how to be funny. And as long as that's the case, I will still have a chance as a write and a master blurber. So don't count me out yet!"

In a Vulture article headlined "6 Stand-ups Analyze ChatGPT's Attempts to Steal Their Jobs," comedian Pete Holmes observed: "I sometimes say onstage, 'We don't like jokes a fax machine could get,' and I think you could apply that to the more modern extension: We don't like jokes that ChatGPT would get. We want jokes that pass the 'I'm not a robot' test."

At Wi13 in 2018, Shteyngart observed that some people believe literature has had its day and technology is now ascendant. So he offered an alternative view: "To me writing is this insane Vulcan mind meld technology that lets you live inside the mind of another human being in a way that nothing else can. Not TV, not film, no other medium, not even the Intertube.... Reading stretches the empathy muscle, and my god we all need that muscle stretched these days more than ever."

AI just doesn't get the joke.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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