Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, August 30, 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


PRH Sales Rise 9% in First Half; Profits 'Stable'

In the first six months of the year, worldwide revenues at Penguin Random House rose 9% while profits "remained stable," CEO Nihar Malaviya wrote in a letter to employees following parent company Bertelsmann's announcement of financial results.

Malaviya attributed the sales gain to "three main drivers":

  • Book markets that have been stable compared to the same period in 2022 and higher than 2019, in pre-Covid times. "Despite the macroeconomic uncertainties in most of the countries in which we operate, readers are still gravitating to books to provide them with a unique experience they can't get from anything else," Malaviya wrote.
  • Strong publishing performance "due to your ongoing excellence in publishing books that resonate with readers amid a time of internal changes in some of our businesses." He thanked employees for "your resilience, hard work, and dedication to our books, authors, booksellers, librarians, and readers."
  • Small-company acquisitions that related to "furthering our ambitions to grow in audio, children's, and data-driven publishing, as well as in local content, among others." (This included taking a majority stake in Sourcebooks and buying the assets of Callisto Media via Sourcebooks.)

Malaviya noted that sales growth "did not translate into an increase in profits. That should come as no surprise, as industry inflationary cost pressures and increased costs across our businesses have continued to impact us. We have already taken several steps to offset these pressures in some of our markets around the world and will continue to carefully navigate these industry and structural dynamics."

Overall at Bertelsmann, revenue grew 4.5%, to €9.7 billion (about $10.5 billion), and group profit dropped to €260 million ($283 million) from €492 million ($536 million) in part because of the costs of "realignments" at several divisions, including PRH US.

Peachtree Teen: Compound Fracture by Andrew Joseph White

Austin's Alienated Majesty Books Hosts Soft Opening

Alienated Majesty Books, a bookstore and community space in Austin, Tex., specializing in small press poetry, fiction, and works in translation, held its soft opening recently. The store is located at 613 West 29th St., site of the former Malvern Books, which closed last December

José Skinner and Melynda Nuss, co-owners of Alienated Majesty Books, were interviewed about their new venture in a Malvern Books blog post. "We opened our doors for the first time on August 15th--ready or not!" they said. "We didn't circulate the news widely because we were still missing a few major orders. But people still found us, and we had a great day. We will probably still be unpacking boxes for a few weeks. We hope readers don't mind the mess! But we have some great books in, and we know people are ready to have them. It should be a fun--if chaotic--time."

The shop's name comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self Reliance," which states that "in every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." Skinner and Nuss said they "liked the optimistic feel of the quote. We hope that readers will find their own ideas in our books returning to them in interesting and innovative ways."

Regarding their own paths to becoming booksellers, they noted: "Honestly, we never thought of opening a bookstore until Malvern closed. Like a lot of people, we paid a few final visits once we heard the store was closing, and we started to realize how much having a place like this meant to the city and the literary community. Our friends encouraged us to keep it going, so we took the plunge."

Skinner started writing dispatches from Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s. He graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and co-founded and directed the Creative Writing M.F.A. at the University of Texas Pan American (now UT-RGV). He is the author of two collections of short stories, Flight and The Tombstone Race, and a forthcoming novel, The Search Committee

Nuss has a Ph.D. in English and taught literature for more than a decade. She is also an attorney and, after retiring from teaching, started a small law practice to help writers with their copyrights and contracts. It was through her clients that she learned what a vibrant role small independent presses play, and she wanted to make those books more available to readers.

Skinner and Nuss described Alienated Majesty's mission as providing a place "where the readers of Austin can come to discover authors that they might not find at other bookstores. We focus on works published by small, independent presses--though we will carry a few large press books if we think they will appeal to our readership. We also plan to carry a large number of works translated from other languages.... We hope everyone who loved Malvern will find a home here."

A grand opening weekend is anticipated for late September or early October.

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

American Grammar Opens in Philadelphia, Pa.

American Grammar, a coffee shop and bookstore with a curated selection of around 500 titles, opened earlier this summer in Philadelphia, Pa., Billy Penn reported.

Located at 2046 N Front St. in the city's Kensington neighborhood, the shop spans 1,600 square feet and features a book inventory focused on American authors and themes of social and environmental justice. Terrance Wiley, who owns and operates the store alongside his wife, Terri Wiley, told BP that the guiding question was: "What constitutes America, what is an American, and what do you have to know to understand what an American is?"

The Wileys, who are both educators, opened the bookstore and coffee shop in late June. They plan to host a variety of events, including a monthly writing workshop, Saturday storytime sessions, a reading group, and music and poetry performances. Most of the art displayed in American Grammar is for sale, and in early October the store will host an exhibition of work by a group of local architects who are all people of color.

Since they were undergrads in college, Terri and Terrance Wiley have wanted to create a space that fosters creative and intellectual energy. Their initial idea was to have a bookstore with literacy and mentorship programs, but eventually they decided on the coffee shop and bookstore route.

In 2021, they were planning to open in a space in Philly's Allegheny West neighborhood, until they learned the building had massive leaking problems. Though it took "a little while to regroup," Terrance Wiley said, they found the right space.

Afriware Books, Maywood, Ill., Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

In the face of serious financial difficulty, Afriware Books in Maywood, Ill., has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help keep the bookstore afloat, the Village Free Press reported.

Nzingha Nommo, owner and founder of Afriware Books, launched the campaign on August 26 and seeks to raise $30,000. So far, it has raised more than $8,300.

In an open letter posted the same day the campaign went live, Nommo explained that despite the bookstore reaching its 30th year, it has "reached a point where an immediate cash infusion is needed." In recent months, school orders have largely dried up, and while libraries have made orders, they are "too few and far between." The store's rent has not been paid for this month, and Nommo is "actively considering scaling down dramatically by moving from in-person to online-only operations."

"Before the book bans, we always carried Black books," Nommo wrote. "Before the African history cancellations, we've preserved it. But unfortunately, we've gotten to the point that we are unable to carry this load much further without a strong showing of immediate financial support."

Nommo originally opened the bookstore in Oak Park before moving to the Eisenhower Tower in Maywood about 10 years ago. In 2018 it moved to a larger space within the Eisenhower Tower and added an entire children's room as well as a comic book section.

Obituary Note: Tina Howe  

Tina Howe

Celebrated playwright Tina Howe, whose works include the Tony nominated Coastal Disturbances and Pulitzer finalists Pride's Crossing and Painting Churches, died August 28. She was 85.

Howe was born into a literary family: her grandfather Mark Antony De Wolfe Howe was a prolific writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1925. "Language was given significant power in her family, with Ms. Howe later recalling her father travelling to visit her in the hospital during a bout of hepatitis to read her James Joyce's Ulysses to strengthen her spirit," Playbill reported.

Her 14 full-length plays include Closing Time; The Nest; Birth and After Birth; Museum; The Art of Dining; Approaching Zanzibar; One Shoe Off; East of the Sun and West of the Moon; Rembrandt's Gift; Chasing Manet; and Cheri. Her final collection of short one-act plays, Where Women Go, was published in 2023. Howe translated two of Eugene Ionesco's works, The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, into English in 2004. She is also the subject of the book Howe in an Hour, edited by Judith Barlow.

"Known for her ability to enfold the art world into her work, Ms. Howe's plays are often considered extensions of the Absurdism tradition, with emotions heightened in the face of increasingly improbable scenarios through which her quirky cast of characters must navigate," Playbill noted.

Her many honors include a Guggenheim fellowship; an Obie Award for Distinguished Playwriting; the Rockefeller Grant for Distinguished Playwriting; the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature; and the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award for Master American Dramatist.

"We are saddened to hear the news of the passing of celebrated playwright Tina Howe," Theatre Communications Group Books posted on X (formerly Twitter). "In plays like Coastal Disturbances and Pride's Crossing, the two-time Pulitzer finalist fused European absurdism with a warm and witty style all her own. We are honored to publish her work."


Image of the Day: More Delights from Ross Gay

Ross Gay stopped by Algonquin's Indiana warehouse to sign hot-off-the-presses copies of his upcoming essay collection, The Book of (More) Delights, due out September 19. Gay teaches at nearby Indiana University in Bloomington.
(photo: Jody Bray)

Cool Old Idea of the Day: Bookstore Event Trading Cards

Author cards on display at Booksmith in 2007.

Thomas Gladysz, who worked at the Booksmith in San Francisco for more than 20 years--half of that time running the store's events program--has recounted on Medium the history of Booksmith author trading cards, issued in conjunction with store events. The series ran from 1993 to 2008 and included more than 1,000 cards.

"The idea for the cards was the brainchild of the store's original owner, Gary Frank," Gladysz wrote. "He loved baseball, and saw the cards as a way to draw attention to the store's events. Each month's cards were displayed near the cash register. Customers making a purchase might notice the cards, and were free to take one as a reminder or memento. Due to their novelty, they quickly caught on. Customers liked them. Authors loved them. And publishers were, let us say, amused."

Read more on Medium.

Haymarket Books to Distribute Boston Review

Haymarket Books is distributing and promoting Boston Review's backlist and new issues to the trade, effective in September.

Haymarket Books editor Katy O'Donnell said, "We've long admired Boston Review's commitment to creating spaces for robust discussions of ideas and politics. We're excited to help promote the work of such a historic magazine and support the contributions of its illustrious writers."

Deborah Chasman, publisher and co-editor-in-chief of Boston Review, the independent and nonprofit magazine of ideas and culture, a political and literary forum, said, "With all the overlap in our missions and work, I can't imagine a better partner in the effort to extend the reach of our content."

Bookstores can order the summer 2023 issue On Solidarity, future Boston Review issues, and Boston Review's backlist from Haymarket.

Personnel Changes at Chronicle Books

At Chronicle Books:

Andie Krawczyk is moving into the newly created role of director, institutional and independent trade marketing for adult and children's. She was previously director of children's marketing and publicity.

Brittany Mitchell is joining the company as associate director, children's marketing. She was previously senior marketing manager at Inkyard Press.

Media and Movies

TV: You Don't Own Me

CBS Studios has acquired for series development You Don't Own Me: How Mattel V. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side, a book by Orly Lobel that follows the parallel journeys of Barbie creator Ruth Handler and Carter Bryant, the creator of Bratz, a "billion-dollar, anti-establishment rival," Deadline reported. In the current blockbuster movie Barbie, Handler is played by Rhea Pearlman.

You Don't Own Me "explores the dark side of the doll wars set against the cultural revolution that Barbie spawned, the subsequent backlash, and the cut-throat, high-stakes world of toys," Deadline wrote. "It follows Handler and Bryant, the brilliant, tortured creators of Barbie and Bratz--two quintessential outsiders who create dolls that literally change the world but nearly destroy themselves in the process."

Books & Authors

Awards: Readings New Australian Fiction Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2023 Readings New Australian Fiction Prize has been announced. The winner in this category--as well as in young adult and children's categories--will be announced in October. The shortlist for the Readings New Australian Fiction Prize:

All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien
A Country of Eternal Light by Paul Dalgarno
Funny Ethnics by Shirley Le
Hydra by Adriane Howell
Search History by Amy Taylor
Time and Tide in Sarajevo by Bronwyn Birdsall

Reading with... S.L. Huang

photo: Chris Massa

S.L. Huang is a Hugo Award-winning author who justifies an MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. Huang is the author of the Cas Russell novels (Zero Sum Game, Null Set, and Critical Point), as well as the fantasies Burning Roses and, most recently, The Water Outlaws (Tordotcom)--a queer, genderbent epic SFF reimagining of a Chinese classic. Their short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Nature. Huang is also a Hollywood stunt performer and firearms expert, with credits including Battlestar Galactica and Top Shot.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

A group of bandits made up mostly of women and queer folk rise up against a patriarchal empire--with cinematic, escapist martial arts action.

On your nightstand now:

I don't actually have a nightstand, but next to my bed or currently on my phone are:

The Search for E.T. Bell: Also Known as John Taine by Constance Reid. It's the biography of mathematician Eric Temple Bell, who wrote Radium Age science fiction under the pen name John Taine, and it is WILD, because this man?? completely made up??? his entire life??? I read it because I'm writing an intro to a rerelease of his fiction, but his life is fascinating. I love reading about mathematicians!

Lost Ark Dreaming, a novella by Suyi Davies Okungbowa, which I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy of. I haven't started this one yet, but I'm looking forward to it!

Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon, which is Wole Talabi's debut novel--another advanced copy I'm super excited to start reading! I've really enjoyed Wole's short fiction.

And finally, I'm also currently part of a book club reading this podcast version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms: We've been at it a year, and we're about a third of the way through! It's a very, very long book.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was a kid, my usual answer to this was "anything with print in it!"

It's hard to pinpoint a favorite, but I will say I reread A Wrinkle in Time every two years, like clockwork. And I still have the first page of The Westing Game memorized.

Your top five authors:

I'm absolutely terrible at favorites questions, so instead I'm going to name five authors whom I've personally had wonderfully kind, compassionate, or generous encounters with (as well as them being fabulous writers). You should buy their books because, well, they're cool people!

Ken Liu: Everyone knows that Ken is an absolute craft genius, but he's also one of the most excellent humans in general. He so often quietly makes a point to give a helping hand or advice to writers who are coming up behind him, or to make sure people are being treated right, and he's unfailingly gracious and kind in person. Every time Ken's name comes up among writers who know him, it's clear just how respected and appreciated he is.

Seth Dickinson: One of my very first signings was with Seth Dickinson, who was and is much more famous than I am. We were seated next to each other with one line for the two of us, and 90% of that line was there to see him. Every book Seth signed, he would chat with the person and then say, "And have you checked out Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang?" and direct them to me, after which they'd usually chat with me for a minute (and occasionally buy my book, too, if it was their thing!). It's the kind of exceedingly generous gesture that I store away in my head to pay forward.

Kate Elliott: Kate is one of those people who works continually and tirelessly behind the scenes to help people out or to push for equality in publishing. She goes out of her way to be an ally and a support for others without expecting any accolades for it. She's currently an Ignyte Finalist for "unsung contributions to genre," and I couldn't agree more!

K. Tempest Bradford: Tempest is loud, and in the best of ways! There are few people in SFF who've put up with as much as Tempest in pushing for change, or have spent so much of their time enacting positive resources for the community, like Writing the Other. On a personal level, she's wonderful to talk to--very thoughtful and always looking for ways to boost others.

Charlie Jane Anders: Charlie Jane is the type of person who sometimes doesn't even seem to realize how much bigger a name she is than other people around her--she treats everyone as full equals with no question. I can't count the number of times I've seen her make space for new people or introduce them or invite them along (myself included, when I was new!). She's kind, thoughtful, and an absolute delight in person.

Book you've faked reading:

I don't think I've ever faked reading a book, but I used to read way ahead in class, whether it was textbooks or fiction. I remember turning the page to the 20th century in my elementary-school social studies book while the class was still stuck hundreds of years ago.

I would always keep a finger stuck in the page where the class was. If memory serves, I didn't get in trouble for it more than, well, once or twice!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was is one of the books I'm constantly hyping that I feel like so much of SFF has slept on! It's by Argentinian author Angélica Gorodischer, and the translation from Spanish was done by Ursula K. Le Guin. And it is stunning.

It also exemplifies a lot of unusual things, craft-wise, that are highly unusual elsewhere: a fantasy world with no magic, a book made up of interconnected short stories, a book that takes place over many generations and many thousands of years. Give it a look!

Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't think I've ever bought a book I haven't read for the cover, but I would 100% buy new editions of a few books I had as a kid and then lost the original, only to be disappointed in the new cover art when I repurchased them. I want my nostalgia fully intact!

Book you hid from your parents:

Every book I was reading at the time when they told me to turn out the light at the end of the chapter.

Book that changed your life:

This is a bit of a boring answer, but the screenwriting book Save the Cat! It helped me see structure in media in a way I never had before. I don't follow the Save the Cat! structure exactly--and I think there are plenty of other valid storytelling methods!--but it's honest to admit that it was what helped me become aware of structure well enough to start putting together novels, back before I'd written anything publishable. And, well, here we are!

Favorite line from a book:

Again with being terrible at favorites questions…

I'll go with a line from a book I haven't read: the first line of Neuromancer by William Gibson: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Linguistically, I get such a kick out of this line because it's so evocative--but the metaphor has become wildly different as the "dead channel" color changed across generations. I imagine something slightly different from Gibson, and readers younger than me probably imagine either a dead black or a deep flat blue. That really tickles me!

Five books you'll never part with:

Moving continents several times and being inundated by ARCs now as a writer has tempered much of my attachment to books as physical objects--a little sadly. I tend to feel now like the stories exist in memory and in the world, whether or not I retain the book itself! (I kinda miss being so attached to my books though. Not gonna lie.)

But mostly, the books I wouldn't want to give up now are the ones where I've made notes in them, such as textbooks. I have plenty of those.

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

The Love Song of Numo and Hammerfist by Maddox Hahn, because it's so deliciously unexpected in so many places.

Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie--for obvious mystery-solution reasons!

Happily (?) my memory is bad enough that if I wait long enough, I often can reread a book like it's the first time.

Book Review

Children's Review: There Was a Party for Langston

There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds, illus. by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (Atheneum, $18.99 hardcover, 56p., ages 4-8, 9781534439443, October 3, 2023)

Three creators at the toe-tapping tip-toppest of their game deliver a soulful tribute to a beloved poet, essayist, and cultural leader in the melodic There Was a Party for Langston, written by Jason Reynolds (Stuntboy, in the Meantime; Ghost), and illustrated by siblings Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (The Old Truck).

The grand opening of the Schomburg Center's auditorium inspires a "jam in Harlem to celebrate the word-making man--Langston, the king of letters." Langston Hughes made words dance on the page and, on this February 1991 evening, literary luminaries boogie the night away in his honor. "All the best word makers were there" at the library's "fancy-foot, get-down, all-out bash." A who's-who of notable Black authors beam from book spines at the "shimmying, full of dazzle" crowd, but two guests take center stage: Hughes's "word-children," Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka, who "danced, like the best words do, together." Reynolds includes a joyous reflection on Hughes's childhood, and takes forays into his literary influence on both Angelou and Baraka, then returns readers to the thrilling tribute at hand: "that hoopla in Harlem... Where the books were listening, just like you."

The Pumphrey brothers use their signature stamping technique to create magnificent results. Sunny yellows and matte, muted browns and blues evoke a bygone era. A dizzying array of page designs that incorporate plenty of white space maximize both the landscape format of the open book, and the portrait format of each individual page. The artwork incorporates the musicality and playfulness of Reynolds's exuberant language while bolstering Hughes's impact with subtle design elements. For example, several of Hughes's notable jazz poems are rendered in calligrams, where their words take the form they express: "mother" folds into that shape, hugging her son; "I, too, am America" launches forth from a typewriter to form the United States. Langston is repeatedly coronated by the shadow of a "W," crowning "the word-making king," language and imagery that is echoed on the book's cover.

Former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Reynolds makes his picture book debut in this joyful and rhythmic triumph. The text is reverential yet jolly; "Langston's language-laughter tickle[s]" readers without ever losing focus on Hughes's profound literary impact. An author's note credits the story's inspiration to a pictured photograph of Angelou and Baraka (potentially a less familiar name to some readers, a poet with a "rickety radio heart") dancing.

This boisterous read-aloud is equal parts endearing homage and history lesson about a literary giant, and it is truly something to celebrate. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Shelf Talker: A notable creative team joins forces in a melodic picture book that pays joyous and rhythmic homage to a literary icon.

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