Also published on this date: Wednesday, May 24, 2023: Kids' Maximum Shelf: Mascot

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Hampton Roads Publishing Company: Becoming Baba Yaga: Trickster, Feminist, and Witch of the Woods by Kris Spisak, Foreword by Gennarose Nethercott

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

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

Chronicle Books: Taste in Music: Eating on Tour with Indie Musicians by Luke Pyenson and Alex Beeker


For Sale: Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Ill. 

Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Ill., has been put up for sale. The Chicago Tribune reported that after "more than 30 years of reading books, loving books, selling books, and hosting authors and readers... Augie Aleksy is preparing to call it quits." 

"It's time," he said. "I want this store to go to someone who understands the importance of traditions and loves books and writers." Aleksy and his wife, Tracy, a retired nurse, "are now in their 70s and would like to enjoy the rest of their lives unburdened by the considerable pressures of running an independent bookstore. They will be exploring offers over the next few weeks and are hopeful that they will be able to retire soon," the Tribune noted.

"People think all I do is sit around and read," he said. "I am so busy with business that I am usually reading three books at a time, juggling them and trying to find a quiet booth in [nearby] Louie's Diner when I am able to escape for lunch." 

He added that the decision was not prompted by any pandemic-related business troubles: "It was surprising, but 2021 was one of the best years we've ever had. A lot of customers bought gift certificates for family and friends. A lot of people were cooped up and doing more reading. There was a real hunger for reading."

Store events have been scheduled into the summer and beyond. "Like the best of independent bookstores, Centuries & Sleuths is really something of a community center, a place for lively gatherings, hosted by the Aleksys, as affable a pair as you are likely ever to meet. Augie's laugh is an unforgettably joyful noise," the Tribune wrote.

"Here we have conversations, not lectures," Aleksy said. "I know so many authors who are decent people, always eager to meet their readers and to support one another."

For more information, "call the store [708-771-7243] and talk to Augie. Better yet, drop in. Have a look, buy a book," the Tribune advised.

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NOLA's Tubby & Coo's Shifting to Traveling Book Shop

Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop, New Orleans, La., will transition from a bricks-and-mortar store to a Traveling Book Shop, effective June 1. New Orleans magazine reported that Tubby & Coo's Traveling Book Shop "is dedicated to providing a curated selection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, queer, and diverse books. With a strong commitment to social justice, their mission extends beyond selling books. By traveling throughout New Orleans and its surrounding areas, the Traveling Book Shop aims to promote inclusivity, build community, and ensure access to queer literature, especially during a time when such books are being challenged and banned."

Candice Huber

Owner Candice Huber is determined to create safe and inclusive spaces. To facilitate accessibility, Tubby & Coo's Traveling Book Shop has established four permanent pop-up residencies at prominent locations in New Orleans. From June 1-4, the Traveling Book Shop will pop up at the LGBTLOL Queer Comedy Fest, and on June 17 will host a book launch at Second Line Brewing for the third title from the bookstore's publishing house, Carnival of Creatures, a compendium of monsters of Louisiana myth and legend by Candice Huber and Alexis Braud.

In addition to pop-up residencies and events, Tubby & Coo's noted that it will organize various other events throughout the city, is equipped to host virtual events and will adapt to meet the diverse needs of New Orleans' book-loving community.

Beginning in July, the bookstore will introduce local delivery. Future plans call for the establishment of Little Free Queer Libraries and book vending machines across the city, the introduction of a sustaining member program, and the development of a bookmobile. The Traveling Book Shop is also working on a community initiative called "The Book Banned-Its," distributing a list of currently banned and challenged books for free to individuals and organizations in the community to foster awareness and support.

GLOW: Sourcebooks Landmark: A Forty Year Kiss by Nickolas Butler

James Daunt on B&N's 'Process of Change'

James Daunt

For the afternoon keynote at the U.S. Book Show in New York City, Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt discussed the "process of change" that is going on with the company, which he said began with the explicit recognition that "B&N had become a not very good bookseller."

Though there had been a time when it was a good bookseller, he continued, the company had strayed from that, and it was "fast heading" in the direction of the other chain stores that had already disappeared. The stores "weren't good enough," but not because Amazon had taken all of B&N's market share, or because too many people were buying books at places like Target and Costco, or "certainly not" because readers weren't buying books. The book market, in fact, was "incredibly vibrant and resilient," and Daunt emphasized that what was failing was B&N as a chain bookseller.

Much of the problem came from B&N behaving like a "normal chain retailer," like Zara, REI, or H&M, where what works is that each individual store is largely the same. They strive to give customers an experience that is assured, predictable and "frankly as identical an experience as possible" no matter what specific location they enter. But employing that strategy with a book retailer, Daunt remarked, is how you "end up with boring bookstores."

That strategy "inherently undermines" the things that good bookstores do well. The question became how B&N could introduce to its stores the things that "come so naturally" to independent bookstores, such as curation and individuality, and ally that to bookselling teams that are enjoying their jobs and engaging with their communities. The answer, Daunt said, is "not all together simple," and it "doesn't happen quickly."

Going into further detail, Daunt discussed the experience that used to greet customers when they entered a B&N. In the past, hardcovers and new releases were "very predictably arranged" at the front of the store in a process that was based entirely on co-op and promo. Publishers "paid the money" and the books were placed there; the displays were "essentially identical" irrespective of where that store was located and what community it served. There was a planogram detailing how books should be displayed and there was a "dollar fee" attached to the prominence of that positioning.

Now, while B&N still buys books centrally, it is up to individual stores to handle placement and manage replenishment, with no instruction as to where specific books should go. This has forced a learning process at many stores, and though some of that learning is being "done through mistakes," it is "a journey we have to go through."

B&N is emphasizing discovery, and "beginning to become much better at it" through things like book of the month picks and discovery picks for different ages and genres. Key books are now being chosen not because of "dollar remuneration" but because someone at B&N has read them and believes they will sell well. Noting that B&N's bestseller list had become somewhat stagnant, with the same authors appearing for nearly a decade, Daunt said the company is also working on ways to identify and promote new talent.

Touching on other challenges, Daunt mentioned that as individual stores have received more freedom to curate and display their sections, hardcover nonfiction has proved more difficult than fiction. Things change "very quickly and rapidly," and navigating and adapting to it is difficult.

B&N has worked on "improving our backlist," and Daunt reported that paperbacks are "doing much better" than in the past. Before these recent changes, B&N had "slipped hugely" with curating backlist. Daunt pointed to history as the most obvious example, saying that "unbelievably," B&N used to arrange its history books alphabetically and not chronologically. It was "terrible" for discovery and there was "no reason" for it, Daunt added, except that it made shelving easier.

Daunt called the kids section the "beating heart of our stores," and said the "energy" of most stores comes from the YA section. It's where some of B&N's best customers "have always been," and many B&N booksellers tend to be young and familiar with the genre. As stores have been given more curatorial freedom, the YA sections have generally been "done most successfully."

On the subject of sidelines, Daunt said B&N has cut down on some of its nonbook offerings, making sure to carry things that "complement" books. In contrast to the freedom that individual stores have received for curating books, B&N is telling stores "very precisely" what to do with their vinyl records, Lego sets, scented candles, and more.

Daunt also discussed the investments B&N has made in its employees and career development, calling it a "fundamental part of what we're trying to do." He described B&N's previous structure as "crude," with the average store having a small group of full-time employees who were paid well and, beyond that, a large group of part-timers, often temporary employees paid little more than minimum wage.

The company is trying to change that through the creation of career structures and roles for which booksellers can be developed and into which they can be promoted. Acknowledging the recent unionization efforts at some B&N stores, Daunt called it "necessary and correct discontent" with how slowly the old structures are changing.

When asked during the q&a portion how B&N determines whether a store is succeeding, Daunt called himself "an opponent of all standard KPIs." Footfall counters and other metrics used by many chain retailers have been "thrown out of the business" and he prefers to use lots of "qualitative rather than quantitative" measures. It's "not what you sell but how you sell," and in taking the long view with these changes, stores will often go backward before they go forward.

When an attendee asked about the much-discussed changes to B&N's strategy for buying middle-grade hardcovers, Daunt expressed frustration with those changes being characterized as B&N moving away from or even boycotting middle-grade hardcover. He called the notion "simply nonsense," and said the company previously had return rates on hardcovers at "about 80%." Returning "eight out of ten" hardcovers was "not serving anyone," including authors, and Daunt described what B&N is trying to do now as putting the "right books, in the right quantity, in the right store." --Alex Mutter

Sidelines Snapshot: Stickers, Chocolates, Journals, and Candles

At Titcomb's Bookshop in East Sandwich, Mass., there has been huge demand recently for Pokemon cards, manager Rae Titcomb reported, with the shop sourcing those cards from ACD Distribution. Other popular items at the moment include Moon Balls from Waboba as well as Suprize Balls from Tops Malibu.

Candy is a consistent seller, with Titcomb pointing to some chocolates from local suppliers like Chequesset Chocolate and Cape Cod Provisions. The store also stocks Hammond's Chocolate bars, and Titcomb described the seaside caramel and dark chocolate toffee bars as "bestsellers." Their vanilla caramels, meanwhile, are kept right next to the register and are the store's "hottest seller." Candy Club, she noted, also provides some "very fun candies."

Stickers continue to sell well, especially those related to books and local interest. In particular, the beach-themed stickers from Wonderfully Written Co. are "beautiful," and other favorites include those by Stickers Northwest and Apartment 2 Cards

Some new additions to the store's nonbook offerings include soaps from Ancestral French Soaps in Maine, and custom-made Titcomb's Bookshop stickers from Stickerknee, which is run by an indie bookseller at Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine. There are literature-themed purses and pocketbooks from Comeco, as well as storytelling boxes from Tonies. Titcomb added that the team loves the porcelain figures and more from the East of India collection at Two's Company.

On the subject of local sidelines, Titcomb said the store is fortunate that Cape Cod has "many wonderful artists and craftspeople," including card and print company Flying Edna, the Cape Cod Coop, jewelry maker Nautically Northern, Martha's Vineyard Sea Salt, and more.

Asked about any other perennial favorites, Titcomb brought up the store's book bags from Envirotote, socks from suppliers like Socksmith, Folkmanis puppets, and Douglas plush toys, along with the Catch and Release Beach Aquarium from Mutual Sales (a hit during the summer months), and safe bows and arrows from Two Bros Bows.


In Spring Lake, N.J., Thunder Road Books recently launched its store-branded merchandise, which general manager Kate Czyzewski reported is "selling well for us." Branded items include sweatshirts, reading lights, tumblers, and rocks glasses, all adorned with the bookstore's custom logo. 

For local sidelines, Czyzewski pointed to "My New Jersey" coloring books featuring local history and iconic, Asbury Park-themed structures. It has "sold very well and continues to sell out at our store." Perennial favorites, meanwhile, including Mincing Mockingbird journals and Fly Paper Products candles. Those have been "staples" for a long time, and customers frequently add them to their purchases. Luckily, Czyzewski added, the shop has not had supply-chain issues lately. --Alex Mutter

If you are interested in having your store appear in a future Sidelines Snapshot article, please e-mail


Image of the Day: Colleen Cambridge at Boswell Book Co.

Colleen Cambridge visited Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis., for an event  promoting her new historical mystery, Mastering the Art of French Murder (Kensington). She was in conversation with Erica Ruth Neubauer, author of the Jane Wunderly Mysteries. Pictured from left: bookseller Chris Lee, Cambridge, Neubauer, and owner Daniel Goldin.


Chalkboard: Ghoulish Books

"Let’s make this week a great week for buying indie horror!" Ghoulish Books, Selma, Tex., posted on Instagram along with a pic of the shop's sidewalk chalkboard message: "Readers beware! You're in for a surprisingly affordable scare!"

Personnel Changes at Diamond Book Distributors

Emily Botica has been promoted to v-p, publisher relations and marketing, at Diamond Book Distributors. She joined DBD in 2007 as sales manager working with Borders.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Eileen Bjorkman on Morning Joe

Morning Joe: Eileen Bjorkman, author of The Fly Girls Revolt: The Story of the Women Who Kicked Open the Door to Fly in Combat (Knox Press, $30, 9781637585948).

Good Morning America: James Comey, author of Central Park West: A Crime Novel (Mysterious Press, $30, 9781613164037).

Today Show: Bricia Lopez, author of Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling (Abrams, $40, 9781419762888).

Movies: The Color Purple, the Musical

A trailer has been released for the movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker. Variety reported that Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg have reunited to revive the production as a film directed by Blitz Bazawule. It is set to premiere in North America on December 25, and open internationally beginning January 18, 2024.

Fantasia reprises her Broadway role as Celie, leading a cast that includes Danielle Brooks as Sofia, Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, Colman Domingo as Mister, H.E.R. as Squeak, Halle Bailey as Young Nettie, Corey Hawkins as Harpo, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Mama.

Winfrey is a producer on the film, alongside Spielberg, Scott Sanders, and Quincy Jones. When she was asked about a need to retell The Color Purple story almost 40 years after the first movie's release, Winfrey replied, "As long there is a need for self-discovery, self-empowerment, as long as there is a need for victory in someone's life, as long as there is a need for people to know what it feels like to be loved up and to be made full and hold to somebody else's love, there will be a need for The Color Purple."

Bazawule (Black Is King) directed the film from a script by Marcus Gardley (The Chi). Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Carla Gardini, Mara Jacobs, Adam Fell, Courtenay Valenti, Sheila Walcott, and Michael Beugg are executive producers.

Books & Authors

Awards: International Booker Winner

Time Shelter by Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel, won the 2023 International Booker Prize, which honors "a single book, translated into English and published in the U.K. or Ireland," and celebrates the work of translators. The £50,000 (about $62,100) award is split between author and translator. Time Shelter becomes the first novel originally published in Bulgarian to win the prize. It was published in the U.S. by Liveright in May 2022.

Chair of judges Leïla Slimani praised Time Shelter as "a brilliant novel, full of irony and melancholy. It is a profound work that deals with a very contemporary question: What happens to us when our memories disappear? Georgi Gospodinov succeeds marvelously in dealing with both individual and collective destinies and it is this complex balance between the intimate and the universal that convinced and touched us.

"In scenes that are burlesque as well as heartbreaking, he questions the way in which our memory is the cement of our identity and our intimate narrative. But it is also a great novel about Europe, a continent in need of a future, where the past is reinvented, and nostalgia is a poison.... It is a novel that invites reflection and vigilance as much as it moves us, because the language--sensitive and precise--manages to capture, in a Proustian vein, the extreme fragility of the past. And it mixes, in its very form, a great modernity with references to the major texts of European literature, notably through the character of Gaustine, an emanation from a world on the verge of extinction. 

"The translator, Angela Rodel, has succeeded brilliantly in rendering this style and language, rich in references and deeply free. The past is only ever a story that is told. And not all storytellers have the talent of Georgi Gospodinov and Angela Rodel."

Reading with... Elise Hu

photo: Emily Cummings

Elise Hu is the host of TED Talks Daily and a host-at-large for NPR, where she was an international correspondent and the founding bureau chief in Seoul, South Korea. Her experiences in Korea were a jumping-off point for her nonfiction exploration, Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital (Dutton, May 23, 2023).

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Tech-forward Korea helps us understand how the core promise of capitalism--transformation through spending--means remaking our bodies. Where do we draw the line?

On your nightstand now:

Plucked by Rebecca Herzig. I've written essays adjacent to the release of Flawless, and one of them is focusing on how I am parenting my three young girls now that I have gone through a journey to better understand aesthetic labor and its costs. Plucked is a history and study of body hair removal--why, what for, and what it means. It's a rich, engrossing, and fascinating subject.

The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House by Audre Lorde. I revisit and thumb through this to stay motivated. It's such a simple book, really, only 50 pages or so. But worthwhile to keep on your nightstand to remember the struggle for equity and liberation for marginalized people, perspectives, and voices.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Wayside School Is Falling Down by Louis Sachar. This ended up being a classic, and a series, but when I was in third grade and first encountered Wayside School, I think it might have just come out! I found it so funny and full of hijinks, and Sachar really made me want to be at that school instead of my own. I read it again and again.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. In middle school, I got really into Sense and Sensibility after seeing the film adapted by Emma Thompson and starring my then-celebrity-crush, Hugh Grant. So not only did I read the book, but I devoured the Sense and Sensibility film companion coffee-table book that came out, which was behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot and Emma Thompson's journal as they made the film.

Your top five authors:

Kazuo Ishiguro, Joan Didion, Mary H.K. Choi, Philip Roth. The journalism of David Foster Wallace. (So... his essay collections, basically. I think this says something about my attention span.)

Book you've faked reading:

Don't tell my English teacher, but I clearly did not read a few of the books that they assigned in 11th and 12th grades, notably the Aeneid by Virgil and Beowulf. (No offense to Beowulf fans but, hoo boy, I found this torturous to get into.)

Book you're an evangelist for:

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. Ostensibly a book about time management, it's actually a philosophical take that argues against productivity hacks and optimization. I think about it all the time.  

Book you've bought for the cover:

I do almost all my reading on e-readers, but I do recall I bought Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff without knowing anything about it, because the simple and alliterative title on a beautiful teal cover drew me in.

Book you hid from your parents:

I've never hid a book from my parents, largely because I don't think they were ever that curious about what I was reading, and I had so many books around as a child that to "hide" a book was unnecessary. Every book was essentially hiding in plain sight among the stacks.

Book that changed your life:

The Middle Passage by James Hollis. James Hollis is one of America's preeminent Jungian psychologists and writers. The Middle Passage was his original exploration of what happens to us in the search for meaning and identity at midlife, a period between "first adulthood" and "second adulthood." When I was about 35, I found I actually encountered this "middle passage" phenomenon. Around that time I got a meal with Matt Weiner, the showrunner and writer of Mad Men. He said that if I could find this out-of-print book, The Middle Passage, it would be useful to me. He said its ideas informed much of the art he made on TV. Anyway, if you've reached your mid-30s or thereabouts, this book really tracks.

Fun fact: one of the chapters of Four Thousand Weeks starts with "The Jungian psychologist James Hollis" to which I thought, YOU HAD ME AT JAMES HOLLIS!

Favorite line from a book:

"Lenore wants me to be a slightly different person than who I actually am, and I can't force myself to care about the things that are important to her. So even when we both 'win,' nothing really changes." --from Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman.

This to me says so much about the crucial ingredient for a romantic relationship to work: that you accept your partner or partners as who they actually are, and not a "slightly different person."

Five books you'll never part with:

Kim Il-sung Works by Kim Jong-il. The North Korean government published endless volumes of the teachings and thought of Kim Il-sung, the first North Korean dictator. The propaganda books are sent abroad to countries with some ties to North Korea, like Laos. In 2017, when I was reporting on Obama's final Asia visit, with a stop in Laos, I went to a restaurant run and staffed by North Koreans. The restaurant had a shelf of propaganda books with Kim Il-sung thought, and my Laotian fixer asked them if we could keep one. I still have it as a totem to my days as a foreign correspondent, covering one of the most closed countries in the world.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Before I became a super evangelist for Four Thousand Weeks, Tiny Beautiful Things was the book I would most often buy and give to my friends. So much of the advice in there is timeless. Like the Audre Lorde book on my nightstand, I go back and read parts of it because I often need it.

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers and PBS had such an outsized influence on me as a daughter of immigrants. Television informed what I thought was "normal" or even aspirational, because I was hyperaware my family was different. Thankfully, Mister Rogers was a constant presence, and the way he spoke directly to me made me feel seen and safe.  

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is just such a beautiful and affecting story, a reminder to hold on to that which makes us human for as long as we are alive.

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace. To be honest, I may have parted with this several times, because I've loaned it out to my assistants or younger journalists who have come through my house. This collection is my favorite of DFW's journalistic works, and the title essay stopped my lobster-eating for good.

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

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. When I first read this collection a few years ago, I remember it being so deeply moving, revelatory, and affecting that I felt like I needed a cigarette after every chunk I read, even though I don't smoke.

Book publishing this year that you're excited about:

Central Places by Delia Cai. A "you can't go home again" novel about going back home again, and the character's rich interiority made it such a page-turner. I inhaled this book.

Book Review

Children's Review: The Chaos Monster

The Chaos Monster by Sayantani DasGupta (Scholastic, $17.99 hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9781338766738, July 18, 2023)

In the witty, fantastical The Chaos Monster, book one of Sayantani Dasgupta's Secrets of the Sky series, fraternal twins find that magic can happen to anyone, especially if they live in that "state where a lot of strange things happen"--New Jersey!

Fourth-graders Kinjal and Kiya Rajkumar seem like "regular, normal brother-sister twins" who live in a "regular, normal town," until the night they sneak into their basement to find Baba's old folktale book hidden in a locked trunk. Suddenly, "a pair of foggy gray hands coming out of a shapeless tornado-like, whirling mass" appears and grabs their pet, Thums-Up--she has been "dognapped by a chaos monster." Two flying pakkhiraj horses, Snowy and Raat, land in the twins' yard and agree to fly them to their home, the Sky Kingdom, to find Thums-Up.

The pakkhiraj, though, also need help. Bees are dying off in the Sky Kingdom, and they believe Kiya and Kinjal can fix the problem. Princess Pakkhiraj shows them how the new chief minister of a nearby kingdom is distributing dangerous pesticides with badly rhymed slogans such as "GREEN YOUR TREES AND STAY BUG FREE(S)!" As Kinjal sums it up, "he stinks at rhyming, so he's definitely up to no good." Kinjal and Kiya will have to stop the use of PEST-B-GONE or the "entire ecosystem of this dimension" will fail. At the same time, the siblings also have a personal stake in the quest: if they don't put an end to the destruction, "something frightening and unspeakable" will happen to their family. Kiya and Kinjal commence their "heroic call to adventure" accompanied by Thums-Up, Snowy, and Raat. Along the way, their burgeoning magical abilities suggest the twins are not as "ordinary" as they think.

Sayantani Dasgupta (Debating Darcy; The Serpent's Secret) has penned an imaginative tale in which creatures from traditional Bengali folktales and children's stories spring to life, and magic is a treasure "buried deep inside each of us." Her twins, wonderfully adept at humorous banter in the face of danger, grow from bickering siblings into heroes who make a difference. Sandra Tang's grayscale spot and full-page illustrations add a layer of storytelling and break up blocks of text, making the book more approachable for young readers. As literary-minded Kinjal learns to face his fears, and science-minded Kiya figures out that sometimes her instincts are as important as facts, readers should be held captive by their out-of-this-world adventures. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Shelf Talker: In this imaginative series opener filled with creatures from Bengali folktales and children's stories, a pair of "normal" twins must save a fantastical realm by figuring out what is killing its bees.

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