Shelf Awareness for Friday, April 11, 2008

Yearling Books: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Pantheon Books: Chain Gang All Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Scholastic Press: The Guardian Test (Legends of Lotus Island #1) by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Kevin Hong

Tor Books: The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson


Notes: A Green Rebuilding; General Retail Sales Slump

Bookselling This Week gives the background of the current green makeover of the 78-year-old Penguin Bookshop, Sewickley, Pa., which was bought last year by Bud and Janet McDanel, who consider the bookstore an "investment in the community."

The store is closed while its 100-year-old building undergoes a full gutting and rebuilding that meets standards set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. As part of the certification process, the store documents "that all existing materials in the building are being reused or disposed of in an environmentally responsible way, that new construction materials come from local suppliers and are either recycled or certified green, along with many other requirements." LEED certification adds at least 10%-15% to project costs.

Consultant Karen Fadzen and store manager Leah Lindemann are blogging about the makeover.


General retail sales in March were the worst in 13 years as consumers concentrated on "buying what they need," as Jennifer Black, head of an eponymous equity research company told the New York Times.

Reflecting a focus on the basics and low prices, sales at Costco and Wal-Mart stores open at least a year rose 7% and 0.7%, respectively, while most other stores reported declines. For example, comp-store sales at Target were off 4.4%, at Penney down 12.3% and at Kohl's off 15.5%. Even some higher-end retailers were down: Saks was off 2.9% and Nordstrom fell 9.1%


Utah's way of collecting a $10,000 fine against the owner of the closed Beat the Bookstore franchise: sue the bookstore.

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection is going to court to collect the fine against the franchise owner whose store was near the University of Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The fine was imposed because without notice, the store did not give refunds to customers after it closed in October.


Poetry Month treat of the day: Billy Collins reads animated versions of his poems, produced by JWT-NY, and including classic versions of "Man in Space" and  "Forgetfulness."


The Associated Press (via took note of Penguin Group's successful track record building on the word-of-mouth sales momentum for books like The Secret Life  of Bees, The Kite Runner, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Eat, Pray, Love and Three Cups of Tea.

"They really are off the charts, as far as their trade paperbacks," said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstore, Denver, Colo. "They market the books really well. They package the books really well, and the books are really good."

Dan Goldin, general manager of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee, Wis., added, "I think one reason Penguin does so well is that it's one of the few publishers that does not have a vertically integrated sales force. It has two sales forces, one that sells hardcover and one that sells paperback. I really feel like that second set of eyes helps them a lot."


G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Only Game in Town by Lacie Waldon

Isaac Epstein Scholarship Winner: Joanne Doggart

The winner of the Isaac Epstein Scholarship, awarded annually by the New England Independent Booksellers Association in memory of the late owner of Huntington's Bookstore in Hartford, Conn., and past treasurer of NEIBA, is Joanne Doggart, co-owner of Where the Sidewalk Ends: Books, Gifts, and Coffee on Cape Cod, Chatham, Mass. Doggart receives $1,000 to use toward professional development; possibilities include attending BEA or a Paz & Associates school, although in this case, a trip to the ABA's Winter Institute is in the cards (see below).

Doggart was nominated by her daughter and co-owner Caitlin Doggart. Judging from her nominating letter, this is a wonderful choice. The letter reads, in part, "To begin a new career at age 50 is a daunting task. To enter into the field of bookselling, with its maze of imprints, distributors, and publishers; an intimidating myriad of already-established networking contacts; changing technology (in 2005 ISBN-13 was looming on the horizon); unpredictable surges in the bestseller lists and the pressure to have read each title with less time than ever in which to do so, feels like madness. To take on all of the above with a diagnosis of cancer demonstrates a true commitment to a long-time dream. My mother, Joanne Doggart, did just this in April of 2005."

Although her daughter advised she give up the store and focus on getting healthy, Joanne Doggart persevered--and has a clean bill of health now.

"My mother has made this job choice a lifestyle," Doggart continued. "Working more than full-time, she brings piles of catalogs with her on vacation. She is fired-up about bookselling and the activities that accompany running a store. Our store runs a series of children's parties every Wednesday morning in the summer, and her Fancy Nancy party was the best: nearly 30 little girls in high heels, tiaras, dresses doing crafts, a parade, and listening to my mother, herself decked out in a blue boa, reading the Fancy Nancy stories. Her participation with ABA has led to a Booksense Pick quote for the Halloween Top 10 and a quote of hers printed on a promotional poster from Simon & Schuster. Her Staff Pick cards for both the obscure older title Pope Joan and for the newer memoir Summer at Tiffany made them long-term consistent bestsellers for our store. Most importantly, the relationships she has forged with our customers is truly emblematic of the value of independent bookselling. People of all ages come in specifically asking for her, and one woman calls regularly from Texas to get advice from 'Miss Joanne' for all of her gift-giving needs."

Now the Doggarts want to continue their professional development. "We have been trying to work a Winter Institute visit into the budget of this year and if my mother is awarded the Isaac Epstein Scholarship I know she will delight her colleagues in attendance in Salt Lake City with her enthusiasm and friendliness, sitting in the front row with her ever-present notebook and pen to take notes, and thrilled to come home to Where the Sidewalk Ends and make it a stronger store."

Last summer Bookselling This Week profiled the store.


GLOW: Putnam: The Three of Us by Ore Agbaje-Williams

In Memorium: Larry Todd

Wendy Werris, bookseller, publisher, rep, author, among other gigs, offers this tribute:

Larry Todd, a profoundly important member of the Southern California bookselling community in the 1970s and '80s, died of kidney failure on April 9 in Joshua Tree, Calif. He was 70.

Larry, a life-long book lover, moved to Los Angeles from Texas in 1972 and went to work at Hunter's Bookshop in Beverly Hills. Because of his extraordinary intuition about what made a book stand out and become a bestseller, he was quickly promoted to the position of book buyer for the entire Hunter's Bookshop chain. Like the legendary Pickwick Bookshops, Hunter's was long regarded as one of the finest examples of quality independent bookselling in the entire country. In addition to his book buying responsibilities, as general manager of Hunter's, Larry opened several new locations in Southern California and Arizona. Eventually, Hunter's expanded to 14 stores.

Working out of the luxurious Beverly Hills store on Rodeo Drive, Larry regularly met and bought books from every publisher's sales representative in the area at that time. His commitment to books, and his delight in turning his favorites into bestsellers, made Larry one of the most powerful and respected bookmen in the  realm of independent bookselling.

Hunter's Books closed in 1986. Larry then moved to Palm Desert, where he and his long-time companion opened the Bookstore of Palm Desert. They ran the store together for many years. Upon retirement Larry became a devoted volunteer at the Palm Desert Public Library and wrote a column for the local newspaper. His legacy in the book business will be lovingly remembered.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Love & Other Scams by Philip Ellis

Image of the Day: What SCIBA Does for Children

At the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association's Children's Books and Literacy Dinner on March 29 in Pasadena: (from l. to r.) Jon J Muth (Zen Ties); Robin Preiss Glasser (illustrator of the Fancy Nancy books); Frank Beddor (the Looking Glass Wars series); Sherri Gallentine (Vroman's Bookstore and SCIBA president); and Dean Lorey (Nightmare Academy). Glasser was mistress of ceremonies and changed outfits to tie in with her introductions of each of the three men. At the dinner, more than 2,000 books were signed by more than 20 kid lit authors for attendees to take back to their school classrooms and libraries.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: A Belated Happy Birthday to Philip Roth

This morning on the Early Show: sports columnist Mike Lupica on his latest kids' book, The Big Field (Philomel, $17.99, 9780399246258/0399246258).


Today on Fresh Air: highlights of past conversations with Philip Roth, who turned 75 last month.


Tomorrow night on Lifetime: the premiere of a movie based on The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (Penguin, $14, 9780143037149/0143037145).


On Sunday night on 60 Minutes: Herschel Walker, author of Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder (Touchstone, $24.95, 9781416537489/1416537481).


Books & Authors

Will the Pigeon Fly the Coop?

Will Mo Willems move to Harper with his editor? HarperCollins Children's Books is creating a new imprint, Balzar & Bray, to be headed by co-publishers Alessandra Balzar and Donna Bray, who had worked together for 12 years at Hyperion Books for Children. As executive editor at Hyperion, Balzar edited Willems and Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl series as well as edited John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith and the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. She began her career at HarperCollins. Bray, who started out at Henry Holt and Company, was most recently editorial director of Hyperion Books for Children. Among the books she has edited are the Newbery medal-winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi; Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson. Bray also launched the Baby Einstein book program at Hyperion.

The announcement comes just one week after Bob Miller, who founded and led Hyperion for many years, stated that he would leave the Disney house to start a global publishing program at Harper (Shelf Awareness, April 4, 2008).


Book Brahmins: Debbie Ford

Debbie Ford is the author of Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Secret of the Shadow, Spiritual Divorce, The Right Questions and The Best Year of Your Life. In March, HarperOne published Why Good People Do Bad Things: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy. She conducts workshops across the country, and lives in La Jolla, Calif., with her son.

On your nightstand now:

Love's Glory: Re-Creations of Rumi by Andrew Harvey

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Nancy Drew series

Your top five authors:

Emmet Fox, Deepak Chopra, M. Scott Peck, Robert D. Hare and early James Patterson

Book you've faked reading:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book you are an evangelist for:

Power Through Constructive Thinking by Emmet Fox

Book you've bought for the cover:

Snakes in Suits by Robert D. Hare and Paul Babiak

Book that changed your life:

Key to Yourself by Venice J. Bloodworth

Favorite line from a book:

"You must be willing to die daily."--Emmet Fox

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

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Why we should read books:

One well-written sentence can alter a person's life and open up possibilities they didn't even know existed.

What drives you to write:

Recovering from a 15-year drug addiction, divorced parents and withstanding hundreds of traumas and dramas. It has challenged me to become an expert on the underbelly of the human psyche, the shadow self and all its complexities.


Book Review

Book Review: Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $24.95 Hardcover, 9781416954125, April 2008)

Nobody will accuse Chelsea Handler of being too tasteful. Then again, Handler, an actress and stand-up comic whose previous book, My Horizontal Life, was a collection of unapologetic tales of her sexual encounters, isn't exactly going for taste--or pathos for that matter. The title alone, not to mention a cover photo showing the author being served cocktails by a little person she refers to as a "nugget," is a clear warning to readers who might be expecting a refined sensibility. Rather, with her deceptively sunny, I-can't-believe-she-said-that style, Handler aims straight at that squirm-inducing spot on the funny bone. And with this latest assortment of raunchy vignettes drawn (loosely, one hopes) from her own experiences, she hits it straight on.

While lacking much of a through line, Handler's essays are more than a series of connected one-liners. Each story has its own theme (albeit absurd), narrative arc and final payoff. Her desire for a cheap massage, for example, leads to a riotous encounter with a tiny Asian "masseuse" and a decidedly unhappy ending--all of which Handler describes in an escalating, politically incorrect frenzy. In another piece, a dog-sitting stint goes horribly awry when the peekapoo she's watching develops a nauseating and unnatural attachment to her boyfriend, who seems to enjoy it. And a meditation on her distaste for redheaded men turns into wry humiliation when the "Hawaiian-Punch head" she is dating dumps her because he has "other opportunities."

Oddly given her title and an early piece about winding up in jail after a DUI, alcohol doesn't play as big a role in these misadventures as one might expect. Rather, Handler's envelope-pushing attitude and sharp, skewed humor seem to have their origins in her eccentric Mormon-Jewish family, a rich source of material from which she draws often. When she describes her used-car-salesman father urinating in the street, her mother handing out dog-hair-covered grapes or her alcoholic aunt and uncle casually insulting dinner guests, for example, her blithe lack of concern for social niceties seems pretty tame.

Although her essays often inspire cringes along with their laughs, Handler has an undeniably funny take on life and an ability to happily skewer many of our sacred cows. "I have a real problem with homeless people with pets," she says. "How can they have the nerve to beg for food when they have a perfectly delicious dog standing right there?" Because she takes nothing, including herself, too seriously, it seems almost curmudgeonly not to chuckle.--Debra Ginsberg


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Poetry 'May Spring On Us at Any Moment'

"We go on to poetry; we go on to life. And life is, I am sure, made of poetry. Poetry is not alien--poetry is, as we shall see, lurking round the corner. It may spring on us at any moment."--Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1967-1968.

Just listen to the voice of Borges, saying, "The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry . . . "  

Yes, it's National Poetry Month again; yes, I'm writing a column about it; and yes, I could write this column in November instead and claim presumably higher ground by not condemning poetry to a 30-day community service sentence every spring.

But I'll write about poetry anyway. Here's the deal. I'm not a poet. I'm a reader of poetry in November as well as April. I've been a reader of poetry for decades. One of the first books ever given to me was Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses; one of the first poems memorized: "The Land of Counterpane."

Later, John Berryman:

I give no rules. Write as short as you can,
in order, of what matters.

and Gary Snyder:

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.

and Jane Kenyon:

The things you might need in the next
life surrounded you--your comb and glasses,
water, a book and a pen.

So many more. Any such list is endless and idiosyncratic. If you read poetry, you have your own list. If you're a bookseller who reads poetry, you also know the pleasure of that kindred soul moment when someone opens the door to your bookshop and poses an at once simple and complex question: "Where's your poetry section?"

A leading question, as they say. On the way to the shelves, you might ask, "Are you looking for someone in particular?" The potential answers are limitless, but a few occur with some frequency:

  • "Yes, I'm looking for love poems."
  • "Yes, I need a gift for . . ."
  • "Yes, I'm looking for Billy Collins."
  • "No, I just want to see what you have."
  • "No, what would you recommend?"

The last one is, of course, the utopian ideal response, and maybe not quite as common as the others. It does happen, however, and there is the potential for magic in that ensuing conversation.

I know--or I imagine--there are bookshops where such conversations about poets occur routinely, but if this were the rule rather than the exception, we wouldn't need Poetry Month to remind us that poetry is . . . still out here.

In April, bookstores across the country look for creative ways to expand the conversation. For example, Lauretta Nagel of Constellation Books, Reisterstown, Md., told me she is participating in an Academy of American Poets program: "April 17th is the first annual Poem in Your Pocket Day, so we are advertising it and inviting folks to come in and pick up a free copy of a poem to carry. It will be easy to copy some kids and adults poems of various kinds/genres. And it will get them in the bookstore."

Bookshops will celebrate Poetry Month with all sorts of variations on basic themes of events, readings and promotions. They will remind us again that there is still largely unexplored wilderness on the word planet, as poetry sales figures so often painfully show.

As a bookseller, I also love that those utopian conversations do happen in bookstores. Poetry may not be widely read, but it cannot be stopped because, one way or another, we readers will always have our way with words.

"We put shoes on the imagination," Homero Aridjis writes in his poem, "Borders, Cages and Walls," which concludes:

We put bolts on the eyes,
locks on the hands,
limits to the lightning.
But life keeps its distance,
love to its word,
and poetry comes up where it can.

I must leave the final observation to Mr. Borges, who said, "We know what poetry is. We know it so well that we cannot define it in other words, even as we cannot define the taste of coffee, the color red or yellow, or the meaning of anger, of love, of hatred, of the sunrise, of the sunset, or of our love for our country. These things are so deep in us that they can be expressed only by those common symbols that we share."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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