Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Yen Press: The God of Nishi-Yuigahama Station by Takeshi Murase, Translated by Guiseppe Di Martino

Peachtree Publishers: Erno Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, Illustrated by Kara Kramer

Beacon Press: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Inkshares: Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

Tundra Books: On a Mushroom Day by Chris Baker, Illustrated by Alexandria Finkeldey

Simon & Schuster: Register for the Simon & Schuster Fall Preview!

St. Martin's Press: Sacrificial Animals by Kailee Pedersen


FTC Files Antitrust Suit Against Amazon

As was long rumored, the Federal Trade Commission, along with 17 states, has sued Amazon for antitrust violations, accusing the company of building and protecting a monopoly in various ways, including: forcing independent retailers on its online marketplace not to sell for lower prices elsewhere; favoring its own branded products over those from other retailers in searches; and requiring that retailers' products sold via Amazon Prime be handled and delivered by Amazon. The suit, which was filed in federal court in Washington State, also said that many retailers have felt required to buy various Amazon services, including ads on its sites.

In a statement about the suit, the FTC said it alleges that Amazon is "a monopolist that uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power... Amazon violates the law not because it is big, but because it engages in a course of exclusionary conduct that prevents current competitors from growing and new competitors from emerging. By stifling competition on price, product selection, quality, and by preventing its current or future rivals from attracting a critical mass of shoppers and sellers, Amazon ensures that no current or future rival can threaten its dominance."

Lina Khan

FTC chair Lina Khan, who famously wrote in the Yale Law Journal in 2017 that Amazon had been spared government scrutiny of its antitrust behavior, said yesterday, speaking of independent retailers that sell through on its marketplace, "Amazon now takes one of every $2 that a seller makes," the Wall Street Journal reported. Khan later was on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee and was appointed chair of the FTC by President Biden in 2021.

The FTC is asking the court for a permanent injunction to stop Amazon from "engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon's monopolistic control to restore competition." It did not ask the court to break up the company, but left that possibility open.

In a statement online, Amazon senior v-p, global public policy, and general counsel David Zapolsky said, "Today's suit makes clear the FTC's focus has radically departed from its mission of protecting consumers and competition. The practices the FTC is challenging have helped to spur competition and innovation across the retail industry, and have produced greater selection, lower prices, and faster delivery speeds for Amazon customers and greater opportunity for the many businesses that sell in Amazon's store. If the FTC gets its way, the result would be fewer products to choose from, higher prices, slower deliveries for consumers, and reduced options for small businesses--the opposite of what antitrust law is designed to do. The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court."

In a letter to members, American Booksellers Association CEO Allison K. Hill called the suit "a significant victory in ABA's advocacy efforts to fight Amazon's stranglehold" and noted that last week, she, Dave Grogan, ABA's director of advocacy and public policy, and Ray Daniels, ABA's chief communications officer, met with the FTC and "were struck by the intense level of engagement and commitment. In that regard today's announcement isn't a surprise, but the scope of this lawsuit is--it's massive and will allow the FTC to use their subpoena power to create critical transparency around Amazon's (anticompetitive) business practices."

She continued: "Since I became CEO over three years ago, ABA's fight against Amazon has been a top priority. I'd like to thank Dave for his tireless efforts in support of a level playing field for independent bookstores, and I'd like to thank Ray for his contributions to our antitrust strategy and communication. I'd also like to thank the FTC; ABA applauds the FTC and its state partners for their efforts to restore a fair marketplace.

"ABA celebrates this first step toward releasing Amazon's stranglehold."

The New York Times noted that the FTC lawsuit "echoes charges" brought by the European Union against Amazon, leading Amazon to change some practices that were cited by the FTC. "The company agreed last year to a settlement in Europe that will see it display offers from more merchants on individual product pages, and it earlier eliminated some contractual language that stopped merchants from discounting products elsewhere.

"Amazon is also winding down most of its private label brands after they failed to generate substantial consumer traction, a person familiar with the strategy said. In June, it announced it would later this year reopen enrollment for a program that let merchants sell their products as Prime-eligible while handling the deliveries themselves, without using Amazon’s warehouses."

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Inkwell Books & Threads Coming to Rockton, Ill.

The future home of Inkwell Books & Threads

Inkwell Books & Threads will open in November at 106A W Main St. in Rockton, Ill. Rockton-Roscoe News reported that co-owners Darrell and Tierra Polfliet announced in August their plans to launch the new business, and "the excitement and anticipation for the new downtown addition has spread throughout the region."

Inkwell will feature a wide selection of new and used titles, along with a variety of goods and eclectic gifts, including pens, stationery, bookmarks, stickers, records, new and vintage clothing, and their own signature candle. 

The Polfliets are natives of the area and the parents of three children. Their inspiration for Inkwell came from the family's love of books and the community. "They love downtown and have a great relationship with many local business owners on and around Main St., and they mention that they can't wait to start partnering with them for exciting events that we can look forward to in the future," Rockton-Roscoe News noted.

"Rockton's a great small town that really has a lot going for it," Darrel Polfliet said. "We've had an excellent response, and we are excited to bring a bookstore here. It's what many people want to see open, and we're happy we get to be a part of it all." 

Tierra Polfliet added that they are open to feedback regarding what kind of events and experiences shoppers would like to see at Inkwell, but they expect to have a congregating area, an area for writers, a kid's corner, Tuesday book clubs, local author meet and greets, and tarot card readings. 

Current plans call for a soft opening November 2 during the annual Jingle Bell ROCKton, with an anticipated grand opening November 3. 

GLOW: Torrey House Press: Life After Dead Pool: Lake Powell's Last Days and the Rebirth of the Colorado River by Zak Podmore

Hakim's Bookstore, Philadelphia, Pa., Gets State Historical Marker

A Pennsylvania historical marker was recently installed in front of Hakim's Bookstore, a Black-owned independent bookstore in West Philadelphia that dates back to the late 1950s. West Philly Local reported that the University City Historical Society had advocated for the marker in partnership with the Enterprise Center. Founded in 1959 by Dawud Hakim, the bookstore has been at 210 South 52nd Street for more than 60 years, providing books, education, and the space for Black learning and cultural exchange. A dedication ceremony was held September 23 at the bookstore.

"This was a great day. My family and I want to thank all who braved the wind and rain to be a part of our celebration," Yvonne Blake, Dawud Hakim's daughter and manager of the business, posted on Facebook. "My father devoted his life to making a difference by educating and mentoring so many. While he is no longer here physically his spirit lives on in his bookstore and in our hearts."

UCHS noted: "As a place that has unapologetically upheld black learning and community, Hakim's has been on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. Dawud Hakim was connected to national civil rights leaders like Dick Gregory and local leaders such as Mumia Abu-Jamal. Not coincidentally, Hakim's Bookstore was the target of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO surveillance program that targeted places of black identity out of unfounded fears of criminality and civil unrest.... Hakim's Bookstore has survived social unrest, economic ups and downs, and building emergencies to continue to serve the community. Today, Dawud Hakim's legacy is carried on by his daughters and their dedicated staff."

Harpervia: Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku

For Sale: Black Cat Books in Corpus Christi, Tex.

Black Cat Books, a used bookstore located at 1318 S. Staples St. in Corpus Christi, Tex., has been put up for sale, the Caller Times reported. Owner  Carter Little said that while a buyer could change the name and style of the bookstore, he hopes the shop continues to exist. Little opened Black Cat Books in August 2022 and relocated last November, but due to family issues he must move back to his home state of Colorado this fall.

"Because of that, I'm no longer going to be able to run the bookstore," he said. "The unfortunate thing is the bookstore has been and is doing quite well. It would be such a shame for the community to lose a bookstore."

The business is listed for $14,500, and Little is keeping his fingers crossed someone purchases it before it's too late. If he is unable to sell Black Cat Books, he will have to close it. "There's a sheer necessity for one in Corpus," he said. "I just hope there continues to be an independent bookstore here."

He told KRIS News: "We bring a sense of eagerness and a sense of comfort just knowing that there is a bookstore, just knowing that there are people out there that like to read."

Obituary Note: Ron Russitano

Ron Russitano

Ron Russitano, the owner of Phantom of the Attic (Green Tree) comic book shop in Pittsburgh, Pa., since 1986, died September 19. He was 58. Patch reported that "comic books were an integral part of Ron Russitano's life. His many friends and customers have stated that... he could discuss the art form at length."

"Ron touched so many hearts and lives; he was an amazing father, grandfather, son, brother and friend," said Megan Schmidt, who established a GoFundMe page to benefit his family. "His legacy will live on in everyone he touched and he will be missed so much."

Pittsburgh cartoonist and actor Tim Hartman posted on Facebook: "I bought comics from him for thirty five years. I spent hours talking with him about every aspect of life. We laughed a lot, and shook our heads at the plight of this broken world a lot, and shared a love of all things Elvis, and Godzilla and the Steelers. He was a good man.... My world is just a little dimmer tonight. So long, friend. You will be missed... so much."

Phantom of the Attic (Monroeville) noted: "For the last 33 years, we've shared a bond as comic shop owners (and shared a store name--along with the Phantom in Oakland) when we purchased our individual stores. The thing about having a comic shop is that we pretty much keep similar hours as other stores so visiting those stores has, for me, been an infrequent occurrence.... However, there were a few years in a row when I did get to stop in a few times each summer to chat about life and comic retail because my kids were into Pokemon. They'd grab some birthday money and off we'd go to see 'Phantom Ron'.... He was generous with my kids. It's a common refrain, his generosity--especially generous of his time with others--from the loving memories I've read over the last day or so that have been written about him. He's going to be dearly missed by all who knew him. I'll miss him."

Phantom of the Attic Comics (Oakland) posted: "Ron was one of the hardest working small business persons you could ever meet, tirelessly making his store a comics/gaming/pop culture powerhouse loved by a multitude of customers. Ron was always a great person to exchange ideas with and commiserate about the state of the comics/gaming industry. We extend our condolences to the entire Russitano family and friends of Ron. By seeing all of the posts here on Facebook, we can tell he will be missed by all, including us. Godspeed Ron, you are loved."


Image of the Day: Wakefield Books' Grown-up Book Fair

Wakefield Books, Wakefield, R.I., hosted its inaugural Grown-Up Book Fair, at Whaler's Brewing, and it was a smashing success, events manager Michelle San Antonio reported, adding, "It was a full house for the entire three hours, with the most-asked question of the night being 'When are you going to do this again?' Books and beer is clearly a winning combination, especially when it's two local businesses collaborating to bring those great products to the community in a fun, festive setting. We think Grown-Up Book Fairs are only going to grow in popularity, and we're happy to be part of that trend."

Casemate to Distribute Crécy Publishing

Casemate Publishers will handle distribution in the U.S. of all Crécy Publishing titles, effective September 30. Crécy Publishing has been distributed by Specialty Press since 2008, and the move comes by mutual agreement with Specialty Press following the retirement of Specialty Press founder Dave Arnold. A wider range of Crécy titles will be available in the U.S. Founded in 1997, Crécy Publishing, Manchester, England, is a leading publisher of transport and military history titles.

Crécy Publishing founder Jeremy M. Pratt said: "We're delighted to announce this new tie-up with Casemate; we've known David Farnsworth and his team for many years and we're sure they will do a great job in supporting our publishing lists in the USA...

"We worked very successfully with Specialty Press for a very long time and they could not have been more helpful in facilitating this move. I wish everyone at Specialty Press every success for the future, they are a great team and it's been a real pleasure working with them. In particular, I wish David Arnold a long and very well-deserved retirement."

Casemate Group president David Farnsworth said, "We've long admired Crécy Publishing's range of books and have known Jeremy and his team for many years. We are delighted to be able to work with them on further expanding their reach into the U.S. market. We are very grateful to Specialty Press for agreeing to facilitate a swift transfer and we wish David Arnold and his team all the best for their future endeavors."

Personnel Changes at Sourcebooks

At Sourcebooks:

Kayleigh George has joined the company as senior director of marketing, adult nonfiction.

Zaina Maswood has joined the company as performance marketing associate.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Anderson Cooper on Watch What Happens Live

Good Morning America: Reese Witherspoon, author of Busy Betty & the Circus Surprise (Flamingo, $19.99, 9780593525128).

Watch What Happens Live: Anderson Cooper, co-author of Astor: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune (Harper, $32.99, 9780062964700).

Podcast: Mina & Lucy's Guide to Slaying Dracula

Bradley Whitford (The Handmaid's Tale) "has lent his voice" to Mina & Lucy's Guide to Slaying Dracula, Gen-Z Media's 20-episode serialized podcast written by Lauren Wells (FX's What We Do in the Shadows) and based loosely on the classic novel by Bram Stoker. Deadline reported that Whitford stars as Professor Van Helsing in the series, which launches September 21 across all podcast platforms, with additional episodes releasing in the lead-up to Halloween.

The cast also includes Ritchie Coster (The Dark Knight) as Dracula, Broadway star Suri Marrero (The Lion King, Frozen) as Mina Murray, and Genna Du Quesnay as Lucy West, as well as Marissa Jaret Winokur (Hairspray), Julian Chowdhury (That 90's Show), Anthony Atamanuik (30 Rock), and Che Tafari (The Good Fight).

"Bradley's portrayal of Van Helsing is heartfelt and hilarious," said Ben Strouse, Gen-Z Media's CEO. "Lauren created such a fun version of the iconic character, and it's thrilling to see Bradley bring him life."

Books & Authors

Awards: Laurel Nature & Ecopoetry Winners

Jorie Graham won the £5,000 (about $6,105) Laurel Prize for nature and ecopoetry for To 2040. The award is funded by U.K. poet laureate Simon Armitage's honorarium, which he receives annually from the King, and is run by the Poetry School.

The £2,000 ($2,440) second prize went to Zaffar Kunial for England's Green and the £1,000 ($1,220) third prize was given to Holly Hopkins The English Summer. Yvonne Reddick's Burning Season took the £500 ($610) best first collection award, and Liza Katz's Duncan Given won the £500 best international first collection.

In addition to prize money, each of the winners will receive a commission from the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty organization to create a poem based on their favorite landscape.

Reading with... Isle McElroy

photo: Jih-E Peng

Isle McElroy is a nonbinary writer based in Brooklyn. Their debut novel, The Atmospherians, was named a New York Times Editors' Choice. Their writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, the Guardian, the Cut, Vulture, GQ, Vogue, the Atlantic, and Tin House. McElroy's second novel, People Collide (HarperVia, September 26), explores gender through the story of a husband and wife who switch bodies.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

People Collide is a continent-spanning magical realist novel about a husband and wife who trade bodies. It's funny. It's sexy. It's smart.

On your nightstand now:

I just finished--and thus removed from my nightstand--Catherine Lacey's first novel, Nobody Is Ever Missing. I've been a fan of Lacey's work for some time but had never read this novel. It's incredible, and it's been shocking to see how deeply the novel resonates with my own. Both are about a marriage coming undone, and the assumptions that partners make for each other. I love the spry curiosity and intelligence of Lacey's prose. I'll read anything she writes.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Confession: I didn't read that much when I was a kid. But when I did, I was obsessed with the Goosebumps franchise. At this point, I remember the titles more than I remember the plots of the books. But I have strong memories of green goo overtaking towns, and cameras that kill whoever poses for photos. Both of my novels have slight horror undertones, and I can't help but see these books as influences on my style as a writer.

Your top five authors:

Donald Barthelme, Deborah Eisenberg, Renee Gladman, Katie Kitamura, Robert Walser.

Book you've faked reading:

I don't know if this counts, but I've been halfway through The Magic Mountain for nearly a decade. I have told people that I've read it. And technically, I have read some of it, so that counts for something. But if anyone asks what happens after page 270, I won't be able to answer. I have, however, truly loved those first 270 pages every time I've given them a go--and, yes, it has been multiple times.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai. I'm far from the only one who evangelizes this novel, but I really cannot get enough of it. It's so rare to write with such passion and intelligence--while also creating a gripping plot. I'm especially drawn to stories where characters are searching for someone important to them, and The Last Samurai, at its core, is a story of a boy looking for his father. The novel, however, is so far from sentimental. I can't recommend it enough.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Lote by Shola von Reinhold. There is something very dignified about the cover, and the peacock at the center adds an air of mystery that made me extra curious about the book.

Book you hid from your parents:

This might not be the intention of the question, but I spent a few months hiding my first chapbook, Daddy Issues, from my father. I don't think I ever told him outright--he learned about the book because his partner saw something I posted online. There was nothing scandalous in the book, but I wasn't prepared to have a conversation with him about why I named a book Daddy Issues. Of course, he wanted to read it, and I was pleased to learn he didn't find it controversial at all. His takeaway: "This isn't about your daddy issues; it's about issues that dads have." We never spoke of the book again.

Book that changed your life:

It was probably Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I remember both loving the book and loving how I was taught to read it. I read it for the first time in a literary modernism class taught by a pretty old-school professor. But his love for the novel made it impossible to not love the novel. Hearing him talk about Hemingway's prose and vision--the passion and admiration in his voice--made me want to read the way that he read. That was a turning point for me as a writer and reader.

Favorite line from a book:

"One learns very little here, there is a shortage of teachers, and none of us boys of the Benjamenta Institute will come to anything, that is to say, we shall all be something very small and subordinate later in life."

This is the opening sentence of Robert Walser's Jakob von Gunten. It's about a boy who attends a butler academy where he is taught to be nothing. The novel was first published in 1909, but in its humor and tone, it feels very contemporary to me. It's one of my favorite books to reread. And the narrator's lighthearted self-doubt definitely helped shaped Eli's voice in People Collide.

Five books you'll never part with:

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patrick Cottrell. Cigarettes by Harry Mathews. Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg. Calamities by Renee Gladman.

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

Proxies by Brian Blanchfield. I read this book when it first came out and was completely blown away. I've been scared to reread it for that reason. Proxies is a collection of essays where Blanchfield relies entirely on memory, even when it means getting things wrong. There is an appendix noting his errors, but the pleasure of the book comes from the essays that precede the appendix, existing in that space where everything he says may or may not be true.

Your five favorite new(ish) books:

Wolfish by Erica Berry; Nevada by Imogen Binnie; I Do Everything I'm Told by Megan Fernandes; Pricks in the Tapestry by Jameson Fitzpatrick; Mother in the Dark by Kayla Maiuri.

Book Review

Children's Review: Giraffe Is Too Tall for This Book

Giraffe Is Too Tall for This Book by DK Ryland (Page Street Kids, $18.99 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781645679851, October 17, 2023)

In 2011, Hervé Tullet's Press Here broke new ground in meta picture books: it goaded young readers to press, tilt, and otherwise interact with its pages in order to (theoretically) bring about a desired outcome. Well, Giraffe Is Too Tall for This Book--DK Ryland's smashingly good debut picture book--does this and introduces another variable: a darling animal cast that will fairly guarantee readers' emotional investment.

Giraffe Is Too Tall for This Book begins with a problem. The six animal pals occupying a two-page landscape spread simply don't fit: Giraffe's head can't be seen because (the idea is) it's poking up and beyond the top edge of the page. The other animals offer fretful Giraffe reassurance--"You aren't too tall," says the flamingo; "This book is too small!"--as well as constructive suggestions: "Why don't you bring your neck down here?" asks the mouse. But this leads only to cramping in the overcrowded space.

That's where readers come in. The snake has a thought: "Reader, can you turn the book to the right so it'ssss tall?" Alas, the reader's compliance leads to a six-animal pileup. ("Do you think you could turn the book back around, reader?" the flamingo inquires.) Next comes more brainstorming, and even some literary criticism. Says the cheetah to Giraffe: "Do you really want to fit in this book? I mean, what is it even about?" The ideas keep flowing, the characters continue to appeal to readers, and the problem is ultimately solved... for Giraffe if not the elephant: "I think I might be too wide for this book."

Ryland juggles six trains of thought, not to mention six widely varying animal physiques, but the story is a cinch to follow because she sets her digital illustrations against a neutralizing white backdrop, and she distinguishes the animals' remarks with color-coordinated dialogue balloons: beige for beige-and-brown Giraffe, blue for the blue elephant, etc. Ryland even tinges her meta with the surreal, as when the snake makes a staircase out of its body and proposes that Giraffe attempt to do the same with its neck. (Giraffe succeeds, encouraging the friends to climb up, where "there's plenty of room"; only the elephant refuses, for fear of smooshing Giraffe.) Giraffe Is Too Tall for This Book is a primer in team problem-solving in which readers are entrusted with the ultimate honor: an invitation to help. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Shelf Talker: In this smashingly good meta picture book, six animal pals need the reader's assistance in getting them to fit comfortably within a two-page spread.

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