Also published on this date: Wednesday, October 18, 2023: Maximum Shelf: City in Ruins

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Little Brown and Company: Wolf at the Table by Adam Rapp

Tor Nightfire: Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes

Severn River Publishing: Covert Action (Command and Control #5) by J.R. Olson and David Bruns

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers


Bookstore Sales Fall 17.3% in August; Up 1.7% for the Year

In August, bookstore sales tumbled 17.3%, to $872 million, compared to August 2022, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates, the fourth monthly loss for bookstore sales this year. By comparison to pre-pandemic times, bookstore sales in August were down 21.2% from August 2019. For the first eight months of the year, bookstore sales are up 1.7%, to $5.3 billion, compared to the first eight months of 2022.

Total retail sales in August rose 3.4%, to $722.4 billion, compared to August 2022. For the year to date, total retail sales climbed 3.1%, to $5,465 billion, compared to the first eight months of 2022.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books." The Bureau also added this unusual caution concerning the effect of Covid-19: "The Census Bureau continues to monitor response and data quality and has determined that estimates in this release meet publication standards."

University of California Press: The Accidental Ecosystem: People and Wildlife in American Cities by Peter S. Alagona

AAP Sales: Up 8.5% in August; Up 0.6% Year to Date

Total net book sales in August in the U.S. rose 8.5%, to $1.45 billion, compared to August 2022, representing sales of 1,226 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. For the first eight months of the year, total net book sales are up 0.6%, to $8 billion.

In August, trade revenue rebounded, rising 8.9%, to $785 million, with some categories rising dramatically. In trade print, hardcovers jumped 17.4%, to $277.8 million; paperbacks rose 8.9%, to $295.1 million; mass market dropped 19.1%, to $12.2 million; and special bindings rose 15%, to $19.6 million. Most e-book categories were down.

Sales by category in August 2023 compared to August 2022:

Frankfurt 2023: Nihar Malaviya in Conversation

"When I look at the macro perspective, reading is extremely healthy," said Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, during a keynote talk with Publishing Perspectives' editor-in-chief Porter Anderson at the Frankfurt Book Fair Wednesday morning. "And as long as the reader is basically interested in books--and at this point there's not a single shred of data that shows that they're not--I think the state of the industry is going to be very, very robust."

Elaborating on his macro view of the industry, Malaviya noted that given the technological changes over the past 10-15 years, books have actually "fared much, much better than other segments of media." Despite past worries about readers' attention spans and the death of the printed book, PRH is selling more books now than it did 20 years ago, and the majority of those are physical books. Just 10 years ago, he remarked, no one would have believed that.

Nihar Malaviya

More recently, publishers saw a rise in readership and an increase in book sales during the Covid-19 pandemic that has since "normalized a bit." Though sales are down compared to the pandemic peak, Malaviya explained, PRH in most markets is still "selling more books now than we did before Covid." And while rising costs have presented a challenge, as they have in "each and every industry," they did not deter his faith in the overall health of publishing.

Asked about large-scale trends, Malaviya pointed to the rise in fiction, particularly commercial fiction, that has occurred in many markets since the pandemic and which he attributed in part to TikTok. Describing these as cyclical trends, he recalled that when he started in the industry in the early 2000s, it was young adult fiction that was in ascendancy. Eventually, all of the trends "come and go," and PRH's advice to its imprints is that at the end of the day, what matters is "that you have a very good book." He pointed to Prince Harry's memoir Spare, PRH's biggest book in many markets this year, to illustrate his point that no matter the dominant trend, a book of any category can find success.

On the topic of artificial intelligence, Malaviya divided AI into two broad categories: generative AI and machine learning. With regard to the former, which "exploded into public consciousness" with the launch of ChatGPT last year, PRH's priority is protecting its authors' copyrights. Many of the major questions--whether copyrighted content can be "ingested" without permission of the copyright holder, and whether material generated by AI can be copyrighted--are not yet legally resolved and will probably "take some time" to be settled. In the meantime, PRH is "supporting all the efforts that are going on so that copyright is protected."

Malaviya reported that PRH has been working with machine learning "for a decade," and the company does not view it as a matter of "humans versus machines." In the company's thinking, "it's not an or, it's an and. It's humans using machines." Like the Internet or desktop computers before it, machine learning is not going to go away. The question becomes: "How can we help people use this technology?"

"At the end of the day, we are deep believers in freedom of expression," Malaviya said when the discussion turned to the surge of book bannings in the U.S. PRH has been doing "everything we can from many different perspectives," including being party to lawsuits and raising awareness through things like the Banned Wagon, to stop what it believes is "unconstitutional activity." He expects book bannings to "escalate" as the U.S. enters the 2024 election cycle and stressed the importance of an organized, industry-wide effort.

In response to a question about diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the industry, Malaviya said he could speak only for PRH, but the issue is "as resonant as it ever was." Ultimately, PRH is operating in markets that are changing and diversifying, and it is a necessity to have employee bases reflective of those societies. The focus right now is on new hires, and he said PRH has made "substantial progress" on that front over the past five years. However, due to the dynamics of the publishing industry, including much lower turnover compared to other industries, truly diversifying publishing will be "a multi-decade effort." --Alex Mutter

Grand Opening Set for Spoke & Word Books, Milwaukie, Ore.

Spoke & Word Books, a new and used bookstore with titles for all ages, will celebrate its grand opening Saturday in Milwaukie, Ore.

Store owner Cierra Cook has a weekend full of festivities planned for the bookstore, which is located at 10863 SE Main St. Opening weekend will begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, October 21, that will feature coffee from Wind Horse Coffee and a spread of pastries from 808 Cheesecake. On Sunday, a full day of children's events will include an appearance by Caesar the No Drama Llama from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Cook aims to carry titles for all readers, and noted that they’ve tried to emphasize books that have been overlooked elsewhere. Alongside books, Spoke & Word will carry art from local artist Daren Todd as well as houseplants and vintage items sourced from Tiger’s Eye Finds. There will also be floral arrangements provided by Flower Club PDX.

"Our mission at Spoke & Word Books is to nurture and grow our community through shared stories," said Cook. "We believe books are a vital resource for knowledge and connection, and have the power to bring us together. Our goal is to help everyone find themselves at the center of a joyful story."

Afriware Books in Maywood, Ill., Closing Physical Storefront

Afriware Books, Maywood, Ill., will close its physical bookstore October 20, with owner Nzingha Nommo choosing to focus on a hybrid model featuring online sales and pop-ups. In August she had launched a GoFundMe campaign to try to save the store, but she told NBC-5 Chicago that with more people turning to online shopping, she has been struggling to keep her doors open. 

"What we think is convenient, what we think is the best cost, but what we are sacrificing by going that direction is cultural capital. That's what's being sacrificed," she said, adding that to survive she has decided the business must pivot. Her focus now "is getting the books she carries into school districts to reflect the student body and demographics of the students being served. She's already in talks with school districts like Proviso and Bellwood," NBC-5 noted.

Thirty years ago, Nommo quit her job as an electrical engineer to open Afriware Books in Oak Park before moving to Eisenhower Tower in Maywood. "I was definitely on the fast track I was making lots of money," she said about her career. "I quit my job to this--this passion." Her passion is to share and inspire others in the community to read and learn about Black history and culture and to find their identity.

Nommo is moving her business to "a shared virtual artsy office space in Oak Park called CrossFunction. Afriware can do events/pop-ups from there and around town. The bookseller will also "lean into our online offerings by continuing to upload our existing inventory and new titles," she noted in an update on the crowdfunding page, adding: "The long term goal is to reopen in a physical space, but for now we are stretching dollars as far as possible and are significantly decreasing our greatest expense: the rent."

"People are reaching in their pockets for their hard-earned dollar to share it with a bookstore that is amazing to me," she told NBC-5. "I feel thankful, appreciative, grateful for being in a place where the community just rising to the occasion."


Image of the Day: Harvard Book Store Hosts Schuyler Bailar

Last evening, Schuyler Bailar--educator, advocate and first transgender athlete to compete on an NCAA Division 1 men's team--began his book tour for his first work of nonfiction, He/She/They (Hachette Go), with a conversation with Harvard University professor and activist Timothy Patrick McCarthy at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., hosted by Harvard Book Store. Pictured: (l.-r.) Elliott Ronna, assistant events manager, Harvard Book Store; Schuyler Bailar and his wife, Sarah Ehsani-Armaki; Summer Porter, events coordinator, Harvard Book Store.

Personnel Changes at Simon & Schuster

At Simon & Schuster:

Susannah Lawrence has been promoted to manager, corporate communications.

Bryn Manion has been promoted to senior digital sales analyst.

Will Plunkett has been promoted to online sales manager.

Andie Schoenfeld has been promoted to digital marketing manager.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Keegan-Michael Key, Elle Keyon Colbert's Late Show

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Keegan-Michael Key and Elle Key, authors of The History of Sketch Comedy: A Journey through the Art and Craft of Humor (Chronicle, $29.95, 9781797216836).

TV: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland) has joined the cast of the BBC series A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, based on Holly Jackson's hit mystery novel series. Variety reported that she will play Leanne, the mother of lead character Pip Fitz-Amobi, played by Emma Myers (Wednesday), with Gary Beadle (Small Axe) as Pip's father Victor and Mathew Baynton as Elliot Ward.

The cast also includes Henry Ashton, Mitu Panicucci, India Lillie Davies, Rahul Pattni, Orla Hill, Ephraim O.P. Sampson, Carla Woodcock, Yasmin Al-Khudhairi, Jessica Webber, Matthew Khan, Georgia Aaron, Adam Astill, and Annabel Mullion. The six-episode series is written by Poppy Cogan alongside Zia Ahmed, Ajoke Ibironke, and Ruby Thomas. Florence Walker produces. 

"I so enjoyed being part of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder," said Maxwell Martin. "Really lovely cast, crew and creatives. Can't wait for all the people who love Holly's book to see it brought to their screens."

Jackson added: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd have such an incredible cast and yet--at the same time--it always had to be them, because they are perfect for these characters.... It truly felt like watching the books come to life. We had so much fun making this TV show and I cannot wait to see it all come together--and to your TV screens!"

Books & Authors

Awards: Cundill History Finalists

Finalists have been announced for the 2023 Cundill History Prize, which honors "the book that embodies historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal," and is administered by McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The winner, to be named November 8, receives $75,000 and the two runners up $10,000. This year's finalists are:

Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China's Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan 
Queens of a Fallen World: The Lost Women of Augustine's Confessions by Kate Cooper 
Charged: A History of Batteries and Lessons for a Clean Energy Future by James Morton Turner 

Reading with... Karina Yan Glaser

photo: Corey Hayes

Karina Yan Glaser is the author of the Vanderbeeker series and the standalone middle-grade novel A Duet for Home. She is a contributing editor for Book Riot and lives in Harlem in New York City with her husband, two kids, and an assortment of rescue animals and houseplants. One of her proudest achievements is raising kids who can't go anywhere without a book. The seventh and final book in the Vanderbeeker series is The Vanderbeekers Ever After (Clarion Books).

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

The Vanderbeekers are a family of seven living in Harlem along with many pets, weathering life's ups and downs together with joy, heart, and humor.

On your nightstand now:

I am currently reading Ducks: Two Years on the Oil Sands, a graphic memoir by Kate Beaton. It's geared for readers 16-up, and I love how beautiful Kate's art is, and how she brings us into her life as a young college graduate looking to pay off her student debt by working in Canada's rich oil sands. While the pay is good, life there is harsh and unforgiving, and it doesn't help that Kate is one of very few women working there.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin! I was like Mary Anne, but I wanted to be like Stacey or Claudia. My favorite book in the series was New York, New York! (Super Special Edition #6). I also loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. You might sense a theme in my favorite books--they were all set in New York City.

Your top five authors:

Only five?

First off, I love everything Jacqueline Woodson writes. My favorite is Brown Girl Dreaming. It's brilliant in audiobook form--Jackie reads it herself and it is perfect. Rebecca Stead captures the middle-grade voice in such a brilliant way; my favorite of her books is A List of Things that Will Not Change. Gary D. Schmidt made me fall in love with middle-grade books, and I reread The Wednesday Wars every year and cry over that story.

I love each and every graphic novel that Victoria Jamieson has written and illustrated. She captures middle school in such an authentic and funny way. Rita Williams-Garcia can write like no one else. After reading A Sitting in St. James, I bought a bunch more copies to share with my friends and family.

Book you've faked reading:

Probably J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye? I had to read that in high school English class, and I could not get into it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat. I read that book in one afternoon and instantly recommended it to everyone I knew. Even though I knew the ending, I was utterly enthralled with each page!

Book you've bought for the cover:

Hello NY: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs by Julia Rothman. I will pretty much buy any book about New York City, and this one is a favorite. I love books that capture the essence of New York City and the people who live here. I also love Every Person in New York by Jason Polan.

Book you hid from your parents:

I was lucky that my mom didn't really keep track of what I was reading. I don't really think I had to hide any books from her!

Book that changed your life:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I read this book so many times as a middle schooler. There is a part in the beginning where Francie is stepping into the public library and promising herself that one day, she will have a desk just like the one in the library, and a row of freshly sharpened pencils for writing, and a bowl with flowers, and so many books. And I held that passage in the book like a prayer when I was growing up, because that was what I wanted for myself. As I went through middle school and high school, I had that concrete goal for myself that helped me through a lot of difficult times.

Favorite line from a book:

"Someday we will become something we haven't even yet imagined." --Yuyi Morales, from her picture book Dreamers.

Five books you'll never part with:

How about 500 books? Okay, fine, five. But this is really tough!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashley Bryan
Devotions by Mary Oliver

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

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I remember reading this on a (very) rare weekend away when my kids were young. My husband and I rented an Airbnb room in Lancaster, Pa., and it was snowy and cold. I remember picking up The Girl Who Drank the Moon and already knowing that I would love it. I spent the day reading in bed and it was all very cozy and happy and restful. Whenever I see the book, I think about that peaceful afternoon.

Book Review

Children's Review: Stories of the Islands

Stories of the Islands by Clar Angkasa (Holiday House, $22.99 hardcover, 176p., ages 8-12, 9780823449781, October 31, 2023)

Clar Angkasa makes her debut as an author and artist with the exhilarating Stories of the Islands, in which she subverts three traditional folktales from her native Indonesia, beautifully, boldly demanding agency for women and girls. Her vibrant, inviting panels and spreads appear with and without borders, as if subtly reminding readers that borders are fluid and often unnecessary.

The opening tale, "Keong Mas," introduces a "Fish Lady" doing her work and returning home. The text, however, initially belongs to the silent thoughts of a snail revealed to be a princess trapped in the shell. The Fish Lady's patient kindness to the snail engenders genuine freedom and meaningful companionship. In "Bawang Merah Bawang Putih," a blended family of four is grateful "they already had their happily ever after," particularly the two daughters, Merah and Putih, who become sisters. But their joy is usurped by Mother's death, which turns Father unrecognizably cruel. As the girls mature, they must make their own choices. Old Mbok Srini (deemed "old" only because she's unmarried) is commanded to plant a magic seed by a vicious giant who promises to return for the "fruit of my choosing" in "Timun Mas." Her fertile garden yields a daughter Mbok Srini never knew she even wanted, who turns out to be her own clever savior.

In illustrating her feminist versions, Angkasa, who was born and raised in Jakarta and now lives in Brooklyn, also pays visual homage to her Javanese cultural history by garbing her characters in sarongs and selendangs (a shoulder cloth); highlighting splendid fabrics of "any color, pattern, and texture imaginable" spun on a traditional loom, and capturing iconic village landscapes of lush tropical greenery, thatched-roof huts and markets, and terraced rice fields. Angkasa's vividly saturated images use enhancing color palettes matched to each individual story to build tone and setting: she presents "Keong Mas" predominantly in royal purples and golds; "Bawan Merah" features swirling, emotional reds and purples; "Timun Mas" glows with natural beauty in earthy greens and oranges. In her author's note, Angkasa states that she "reimagined these folktales in a way I wish they were told to me when I was growing up." Her adaptations are undoubtedly aspirational improvements: "I'm hoping you, reader, will be inspired to take control of your own life, regardless of the expectations and limitations imposed on you." Go, girls, go! --Terry Hong, BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Indonesian author/artist Clar Angkasa cleverly subverts three traditional Indonesian tales by boldly claiming agency for her female characters.

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