Shelf Awareness for Monday, September 10, 2007


Yearling Books: Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans by Russell Ginns

Ballantine Books: Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

Central Avenue Publishing: Pickle's Progress by Marcia Butler

Bitter Lemon Press: Evil Things by Katja Ivar

Delacorte Press: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Little Simon: Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero! (Mia Mayhem #1) by Kara West, illustrated by Leeza Hernandez

News

Notes: Suit Over Prison Material; Booksellers' Fall Favorites

A lawsuit objecting to new federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines limiting religious books and materials available to prisoners in chapel libraries has been taken on on a pro bono basis by a major New York City law firm and refiled in federal district court in the Southern District of New York, according to the New York Times.

The policy was enacted because of fears of terrorist recruiting, but in some prisons, "chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups," the Times wrote.

Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group, called the effort like "swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. There's no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism."

Several observers said that the approved list of titles was adequate in some areas but had "glaring omissions."

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Carole Horne, general manager of the Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., told the Christian Science Monitor that she anticipates "a spectacular fall" for new releases, calling it "one of the best that I've seen." Horne's autumn must-read list is topped by Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs. "I thought Empire Falls was the peak of his career," she said. "But this is as good, if not better."


Daniel Goldin, senior buyer at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee, Wis., told the paper that he "braces himself for a slew of imitators, be they dog memoirs or Da Vinci Code-breakers. 'There's 17 books that look like The Kite Runner.' " He predicted that this season's Freakonomics will be Richard Wiseman's Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things. (In quirky timing, see Book Sense's May We Recommend below for more by Mr. Goldin on Quirkology! Also, Shelf Awareness reviewed the title in Friday's issue.)

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At a time of wild gyrations on Wall Street, top executives at publicly held companies bought their own stock "at a record pace" last month, according to an AP story based on analysis by InsiderScore.com and Thomson Financial. Among insiders cited: Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio, who bought 100,000 shares of B&N stock, "his first purchase in two years."

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Amazon's venture into the digital delivery of books and other products "seems halfhearted," Business Week suggested. "There's a reason why Amazon hasn't done much to sell books, movies, or music in digital form, even after acquiring Paris-based Mobipocket in 2005 and unveiling its internally built Unbox movie-download service in 2006. The economics just don't add up."  

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Elsevier is experimenting with posting some of its very expensive journals online for free, hoping to make up for the subscription shortfall via advertising and selling user lists, the New York Times reported in a story available for free online (registration sometimes required). The first attempt is with OncologySTAT.com, a site that gives doctors free access in exchange for registering and submitting personal information. Elsevier hopes to sign up 150,000 users in the next year.

Elsevier's medical and scientific journal business is profitable but revenue is flat and online readership is growing faster than print subscriptions.

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O'Reilly Radar looked into a summer Nielsen Bookscan spike in computer book sales, "breaking out of a 40-plus week slump, in which every week's sales were below the corresponding week for the previous year." What caused the welcome and unanticipated surge?

According to a report from Mike Leonard, O'Reilly's retail sales manager, "The August Computer Section sale at Barnes & Noble, as far as O'Reilly and client publishers are concerned, was a success. Total additional sales . . .  [showed] approximately . . . a 20% increase over the previous period. This is the first time B&N has ever done a category wide promotion, and the hope was that it would . . . get the category close to being back on track for budgeted sales."

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"Independents--the ones that have survived--are really learning to adapt," Kelly Barth, one of three new owners of the Raven Bookstore, Lawrence, Kan., told the Lawrence Journal-World. "You just have to be far more clever than you used to be." Barth, Lee Henry and Nora Kaschube "hope to take possession of the business on the eve of its 20th anniversary celebration. Founders and current owners Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright will join [the new owners] for a party from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday."

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The Huntington, W.Va., Herald-Dispatch profiled Sara Loftus, owner of the Bookworm's Attic, which opened last May in Huntington.

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Betsy Burton, co-owner of the King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah, told the Deseret Morning News that she "worries less than she did in the '90s about competition from the big chains, and she is pleased that a number of political officials have discovered that a local business feeds the economy so much more than a chain store. 'I think eventually it will just be us (independent bookstores) and the Internet.'"

The paper wrote that "Burton's philosophy is that her employees should all be both passionate and knowledgeable about books. 'People who read know so much! Book-loving people are, above all, curious. They have imagination. The most important thing we can do is match books to people. So we like to talk about books with customers, and they like to talk to us.'"

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An Aspen Times article on "bad customer service" gave high marks to a pair of bookstores in the Colorado community: "The creative selection and warm vibes at a place like Explore Booksellers or Town Center Booksellers make it much less excruciating to purchase books there, especially knowing full well that the same titles can be had for almost half the price at places like Amazon.com and Costco."

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Lemons to lemonade is nothing. Try turning a manure storage tank into a castle full of books. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, that's precisely what Leonore Dickmann, owner of Happy Tales Bookshop, Markesan, Wis., did when her inventory outgrew its one-room schoolhouse location.

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Former Los Angeles Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman has a simple explanation for the problems encountered by newspaper book review sections. In an essay called "Goodbye to All That" in the Columbia Journalism Review, he writes, "The real problem was never the inability of book-review sections to turn a profit, but rather the anti-intellectual ethos in the nation’s newsrooms that is--and, alas, always was--an ineluctable fact of American newsgathering. There was among many reporters and editors a barely disguised contempt for the bookish. Even for those few newspapers that boasted a separate book section, book reviewing was regarded as something of a sideshow."

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National Book Network has made the following changes:
  • Jeanne Kramer has been named v-p, marketing. She has been with NBN for two years as senior director of marketing and heads the account management team that works with NBN publisher clients.
  • Marie Hergenroeder has joined NBN as director of special sales. She was formerly director of premium sales at HarperCollins and before that was director of special sales for Random House.
  • Tracy Fortini has joined NBN as an account manager/marketing director. Fortini was most recently an account manager at PGW and was earlier a senior buyer at Waldenbooks and the Nature Company.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays from the Grown-Up Years by Cathy Guisewite


In Memoriam: Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle died last Thursday at the age of 88.

L'Engle won the 1963 Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time, one of the most banned books in the United States. When asked in a 2001 interview with the New York Times what she thought of the accusations by religious conservatives--that she "offer[ed] an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurtur[ed] in the young an unholy belief in myth and fantasy"--she replied: "First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, 'Ah, the hell with it.' It's great publicity, really." (Readers familiar with all of her work might find such accusations ironic, since L'Engle is also widely admired for her titles for adults with Christian and biblical themes, including Glimpses of Grace, and her Crosswicks Journals, begun with A Circle of Quiet.)

In A Wrinkle in Time, heroine Meg Murray, guided by her psychic five-year-old brother and by the power of love, travels through time (or "tesseract," for the initiated) to save their father from a planet ruled by the Dark Thing. The first in what became known as the Wrinkle in Time Quintet, the novel harks back to 19th-century writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton with its famous opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night . . ."

L'Engle's first book, The Small Rain, was published in 1945 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux after 26 rejections. In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, she paid homage to former bookseller and longtime editor of Publishers Weekly Frederic Melcher, who established the John Newbery Medal. Just before his death in 1963 (the year she was awarded the medal), he wrote L'Engle a letter of praise about A Wrinkle in Time. L'Engle cited a tribute to Melcher penned by Bertha Mahony Miller: "The bookstore's stock trade is . . . explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly." The author felt that Melcher "lived in this universe of continuous creation and expansion," and she likened literature to stars--also "explosive material" (as her own experience with the banning of her books demonstrates).

"A book, too, can be a star," L'Engle said, "a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe." Though Madeleine L'Engle may be gone, she leaves behind a trail of stars to light readers' way.--Jennifer M. Brown


Korero Press: The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails: A Spirited Journey Through Suburbia's Hidden Tiki Temples by Kelly Reilly and Tom Morgan


Media and Movies

Movies: Silk

Silk, based on the novel by Alessandro Baricco, opens this Friday, September 14. Adapted and directed by François Girard, the film features Michael Pitt and Keira Knightley as a French silkworm merchant and his wife who travel to Japan after a disease destroys their African source. The movie tie in edition is now available (Vintage, $12.95, 9780307277978/0307277976).

 


Soho Teen: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason - Request It!


Media Heat: Senator Dodd's Letters from Nuremberg

This morning on Good Morning America: Anne Kreamer, author of Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters (Little, Brown, $23.99, 9780316166614/0316166618).

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This morning on the Early Show: Randall Larsen, author of Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America (Grand Central, $25.99, 9780446580434/0446580430).

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Today on NPR's Fresh Air: Burton Hersh, author of Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America (Carroll & Graf, $28.95, 9780786719822/0786719826).

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Today on the Diane Rehm Show: John Dean, author of Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (Viking, $25.95, 9780670018208/0670018201).

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Today on Fox News's O'Reilly Factor: Tiki Barber, author of Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond (Simon Spotlight, $25, 9781416938439/1416938435).

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Today on NPR's All Things Considered: Dina Temple-Raston, author of The Jihad Next Door: The Lackawanna Six and Rough Justice in an Age of Terror (PublicAffairs, $26, 9781586484033/1586484036).

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Tonight on the Charlie Rose Show: presidential hopeful Senator Christopher Dodd, whose new book, co-written with Lary Bloom, is Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice (Crown, $25.95, 9780307381163/0307381161).

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Tonight on the Colbert Report: Bjørn Lomborg, author of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (Knopf, $21, 9780307266927/0307266923).

 


Quirk Books: William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Mean Girls by Ian Doescher


Books & Authors

Book Sense: May We Recommend

From last week's Book Sense bestseller lists, available at booksense.com, here are the recommended titles, which are also Book Sense Picks:

Hardcover

The Folded World by Amity Gaige (Other Press, $23.95, 9781590512487/1590512480). "Some novels are richly written on the word- and sentence-level. Others have compelling characters and are easy to read. The best novels are both--such as The Folded World. You can fly through this story about a social worker trying to balance job and family responsibilities. Or, if you pay attention to diction, imagery, and technique, you will see the poetry in Gaige's writing. A lovely book."--Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif.

Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things by Richard Wiseman (Basic Books, $26, 9780465090792/0465090796). "Professor Wiseman uses psychological studies to make seemingly un-psychological discoveries, much the way Steven Levitt used economic theory in Freakonomics. The research in this book isn't all Wiseman's, and the results are sometimes less than groundbreaking, but I assure you: you will find yourself quoting the unusual results of these studies."--Daniel Goldin, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee, Wis.

Paperback

The World to Come by Dara Horn (Norton, $13.95, 9780393329063/0393329062). "I could tell you that this romantic mystery is about fables, about art and artists--Chagall in particular--about love and treachery and history, but the best reason to read it is its power to enthrall."--Jean Matthews, Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton, Mont.

For Babies and Pre-Schoolers

Global Babies by Global Fund for Children (Charlesbridge, $6.95, 9781580891745/1580891748). "The gorgeous photos in this board book are worth a thousand words apiece. Babies from 17 countries perfectly show why anybody and everybody cares about them."--Carol Chittenden, Eight Cousins, Falmouth, Mass.

[Many thanks to Book Sense and the ABA!]



Book Review

Book Review: The Braindead Megaphone

The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders (Riverhead Books, $14.00 Paperback, 9781594482564, September 2007)


 
Having established his reputation as an author of wildly original short fiction, George Saunders will delight his admirers and likely win new fans with his first nonfiction effort, The Braindead Megaphone. This collection of essays runs the gamut from political commentary to travel writing to literary criticism, and while a few of the pieces fall short of the collection's overall standard of excellence, it's a consistently engaging work that showcases the talent of a writer who someday may be as influential as one of his literary role models, Kurt Vonnegut.
 
Although The Braindead Megaphone is overtly political only episodically, in the title essay Saunders eloquently displays raw anger at the debased state of American mass media. Observing that "something latent in our news media became overt and catastrophic around the time of the O.J. Simpson trial," he draws a straight line from that breakdown to television's failure to challenge the propaganda campaign that paved the road to the invasion of Iraq. "What had gone dead was the curious part," he writes, "the part that should have been helping us decide about the morality and intelligence of invasion, that should have known that the war being discussed was a real war, that might actually happen, to real, currently living people."
 
In pieces about a trip to Dubai ("The New Mecca") and Nepal ("Buddha Boy"), Saunders demonstrates that he's an observant and skilled travel writer. The former essay showcases his wide-eyed wonder at the opulence of the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, home to the world's only seven-star hotel. The latter chronicles his trip to Nepal to see a 15-year-old boy who's reportedly been meditating without food or water for seven months. In it, he strikes a charming balance between skepticism and religious awe.
 
Saunders, a professor of creative writing at Syracuse, seems most relaxed in the several literary essays that are among the highlights of the collection. He pays homage to Esther Forbes, author of the children's novel, Johnny Tremain--which I'm old enough to recall merely as a mediocre Walt Disney movie from the 1950s--lauding her for teaching him that, "Poor prose can mark an attempt to evade responsibility." He offers equally generous tributes to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and his deconstruction of Donald Barthelme's short story "The School" sent me off immediately to my copy of 60 Stories to read it for myself.
 
In this space, it's possible to give only the briefest sense of the striking variety of essays in this collection. When I finished the book, I felt as if I'd spent a few hours in the company of a wise, witty, occasionally quirky and warmhearted companion, and just a little wistful at the thought that if there were more people like George Saunders among us, the world might well be a more decent and compassionate place.--Harvey Freedenberg  


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