Shelf Awareness for Friday, May 23, 2008

Red Lightning Books: Weird Earth: Debunking Strange Ideas about Our Planet by Donald R Prothero

St. Martin's Press: The Awakening: The Dragon Heart Legacy, Book 1 (Dragon Heart Legacy, 1)

Houghton Mifflin: Igniting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology) by Robin Lafevers

Clarion Books: Speak Up by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Editors' Note

Gone to the Beach

Because of Memorial Day and with BookExpo America on the horizon, we're taking a long weekend. See you bright and early on Tuesday morning!


Red Lightning Books: The Legend of Bigfoot: Leaving His Mark on the World by T.S Mart, Mel Cabre


Notes: New Stores; Mrs. Nelson's; Summer Books

John McWhinnie and Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, East Hampton, N.Y., will open Saturday. The East Hampton Star described the new bookshop as "many things: a sister store to Glenn Horowitz Bookseller at 87 Newtown Lane, an extension of a business on 64th Street in New York called John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, and an expression of the personal tastes of Mr. McWhinnie, an art and rare books dealer who has a house in Northwest Woods."

McWhinnie said the shop "is so small, it's meant to be a jewel box, a showroom, a display space. There will be 50 books, maximum. I'm a minimalist by training, if not by inclination. One of my overriding concerns here is that it look spare and clean. One thing I've always noticed is that the more books there are, the more people miss things."


Six ABA members opened stores in April. Contact information is available via Bookselling This Week.


BTW also profiled Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, La Verne, Calif., founded in 1985 by Judy and Byron Nelson. Laura and Pat Nelson, two of the couple's four children, work in Mrs. Nelson's book fair division and will take over most responsibilities for the store by the end of 2011.

The 6,000-sq.-ft. store stocks 35,000 titles. Middle-grade fiction is the biggest category, followed by picture books and easy chapter books. Toys represent 35% of sales.


The New Yorker's Book Bench blog recommended an extraordinary online and interactive exhibit, "The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats" at the National Library of Ireland: "If the solitude and decidedly after-hours lighting don't inspire a virtual snoop, the contents of the halls will. Original art installations, such as one inspired by 'The Stolen Child,' accompany explanatory video. But most thrilling is the library's collection of Yeats manuscripts--the largest in the world--scanned and magnified."

USA Today featured an interactive summer books preview.  


Andrejs (Andy) Alferovs has been named v-p of global sales for Coutts Information Services, part of the Ingram Book Group, and will give special attention to expanding sales in the U.S. for Coutts, which supplies books and electronic content to libraries. Alferovs joined the company 14 years ago and was most recently v-p for sales and marketing, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and international. Earlier he was a director of the U.K. division of Faxon and worked at HarperCollins and Holmes McDougall.


University of Pittsburgh Press: The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories by Caroline Kim

Barnes & Borders? Barnorders? Noble Borders?: The Latest

More on a possible purchase of Borders by Barnes & Noble:

Barnes & Noble confirmed a Wednesday Wall Street Journal report (Shelf Awareness, May 21, 2008) that a management team is studying the "feasibility" of buying its rival. For its part, Borders issued a statement yesterday saying it is "in the midst of the strategic alternatives process and has not engaged in substantive discussions regarding any specific transaction to date. The company does not intend to make any further comment while the process is ongoing."


At Borders's annual meeting yesterday, CEO George Jones said that despite putting itself up for sale, the company is moving forward on efforts to improve its business and that this year Borders should "start reaping" some benefits from its investments, the AP reported. Those investments have included the introduction of new concept stores and the impending introduction of a revamped, which the company will no longer outsource to Amazon.


Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics and Prose bookstore, Washington, D.C., told Deal Journal at the Wall Street Journal that a Barnes & Noble purchase of Borders "doesn't make any difference one way or the other. They're the same thing as far as the public is concerned. I don't see why it's any more of a problem to have one really giant company instead of two giant companies."

Cohen called Amazon a more challenging competitor than either B&N or Borders, saying, "Amazon makes it easy when people are sitting at their desks--which most of us are during the day--and you read something and go online and order it. You have to be an old-fashioned book-lover to say 'I'll wait until the weekend.' We do get a fair amount of Internet ordering on our Web site with people who are going to pick it up later."

To compete, Cohen said Politics and Prose tries to make shopping "a boutique experience where there's really good customer service. There's a well-picked selection of books. We don't just sell every book that comes out, but the books that deserve to be seen. We pass over a lot of books we don't think customers would be interested in. They like that. They tell us, 'I never would have found this otherwise.' "


Rick Riordan Presents: Tristan Strong Destroys the World (a Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2) by Kwame Mbalia

Quarters: B&N, BAM Comp-Store Sales Off; Indigo in the Black

In the first quarter ended May 3, sales at Barnes & Noble rose 1.1% to $1.2 billion while the net loss grew to $2.2 million from $1.7 million in the same period in 2007.

Sales at stores open at least a year fell 1.5%, slightly more than the company had predicted. Sales at B& rose 7.2% to $99.6 million.

Bestselling titles during the quarter were John Grisham's The Appeal, Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, Sophie Kinsella's Remember Me? and Jodi Picoult's Change of Heart.

For the rest of the year, the company is lowering forecasts for sales at stores open at least a year to slightly negative from slightly positive. Also because of the difficult comparison with the second quarter last year--when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released--B&N is predicting comp-store sales in the quarter will decrease "in the low to mid-single digits."

During the quarter, under its stock repurchase program, B&N bought 6.5 million of its own shares at a cost of nearly $200 million.

B&N has agreed with the state of California to pay about $8.3 million of sales and use taxes on sales in the state made by B& between 1999 and 2005. The company had disputed the need to collect such taxes but began collecting them three years ago.


In the first quarter ended May 3, net sales at Books-A-Million fell 0.7% to $115.5 million and net income fell 57% to $900,000. Sales at stores open at least a year fell 3.4%.

In a statement, president and CEO Sandra B. Cochran commented: "Our first quarter results were affected by a very challenging economic environment. We are focused on executing the fundamentals of managing inventory, controlling costs and maintaining margins while adjusting our merchandising plan to meet the demands of a cost-conscious consumer."


In Canada, chain store news was more positive, even after a year in which bookstore customers rebelled against book prices that did not reflect the rise in the strength of the Canadian dollar to parity with the U.S. dollar. Many booksellers and publishers reacted by lowering prices.

In the fourth quarter ended March 29 at Indigo Books & Music revenue rose 2.1% to $206.2 million and net earnings were $3.13 million compared to a loss of $4.2 million in the same period a year ago, according to the Financial Post.

Sales at stores open at least a year rose 3.4% at Indigo and Chapters superstores and were up 2.4% at Coles mall stores. Sales at rose 1% to $24.7 million.

In a statement, CEO Heather Reisman said, "It was a demanding year for many retailers as a result of the significant increase in the Canadian dollar. Booksellers in particular saw a meaningful decrease in book prices. Despite this downward pressure on our top line we are pleased with our results."


Cool Idea of the Day: 'Gimme 12 Lbs. of Books, Trim the Fat'

In the Bay Area, heavy tomes, weighty thinkers, light reads all take on new meaning.

Aiming to finish selling "a decade's worth of overstock" and titles left over after shutting down its online used book operation, between now and June 15, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif., is selling more than 30,000 books for 99 cents a pound. The store noted that gold is selling for $13,859.36 per pound, filet mignon for $20 a pound; the current New Yorker is $14.40 a pound, Jujubes are $9.44 a lb. and Uncle Ben's brown rice is $3.36 a pound.

Some of the books are "duds," the store admitted. But "there are many good books left," in part because the books purchased for online sales "were initially bought by our discriminating used book buyers with their condition, quality, and lasting value in mind." The books on are on sale at Green Apple's Warehouse Clearance Sale Store at 248 Clement Street.


BEA in L.A.: Picks of the Panels

Upfront & Unscripted Spotlight: Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, interviewed by Chris Anderson, executive editor, Wired, and author of The Long Tail, Friday, May 30, 3-3:45 p.m.

Evolution of In-Store Events: From in-Store to Online, Friday, May 30, 1-2 p.m. A discussion of the range of possibilities for having an author presence in bookstores, whether in person or through webinars, tele-seminars, podcasts, online chats and more. Moderator: P.J. Campbell, director of events, Wiley. Panelists are Dave Weich of Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.; Karen West, Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif.; Tyson Cornell, Book Soup, Los Angeles, Calif.; Charles Stillwagon, Tattered Cover, Denver, Colo.

Obscene in the Extreme: Why Books Still Get Banned
, Saturday, May 31, 11 a.m., Room 402A. Sponsored by PublicAffairs, this panel debates why on average 500 books are challenged every year, whether government should monitor the flow of information and safeguard morality and how booksellers and librarians can effectively challenge challenges. Moderator is Nicholas Goldberg, editor, op-ed and Sunday opinion, Los Angeles Times. Panelists are Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America; Luis Rodriguez, author of Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., a frequently challenged book; Rick Wartzman, author of Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Climate Change and the Book Industry, Friday, May 30, 1:30-2:30 p.m. A discussion of how the industry is addressing climate change by working to reduce impact, use renewable energy and more. The moderator is Tyson Miller, director of Green Press Initiative. Panelists are Tona Pearce-Myers, production director, New World Library, Andrew Van Der Laan, senior project manager, Random House; Michael Powell, president, Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.

BEA Editors Buzz, Friday, May 30, 8-9:15 a.m. Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, and six editors talk about the books they're excited about.

Update on eBook Reading Devices and Software
, Thursday, May 29, 2:30-3:30 p.m. A discussion of Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader, Iliad, cell phones and more. Emphasis on how publishers can work with them.


Three related panels on getting publicity in Southern California take place on Thursday, May 29, in Room 406A. Organizer and moderator Kim Dower, aka Kim-from-L.A., explains that "many of us remain confused and often frustrated by the tricky market out here and a media constantly in flux with outlets changing as fast as the channels, but diverse and interesting opportunities exist. Here producers and editors shed some light (and some hope!) on what kinds of media are available to publicists and authors in the top bookselling region in the country."

TV 10-11 a.m.; radio 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m.; print 1-2 p.m.

Among the participants are David Ulin, book review editor of the Los Angeles Times; Kit Rachlis, editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Magazine; Connie Martinson, columnist at the Beverly Hills Courier and Connie Martinson Talks Books; Rebecca Allen, deputy editor for features, Orange County Register; Tom Christie, arts editor of LA Weekly; Greg Mantell of the Gregory Mantell Show, editors and producers from a range of Southern California and syndicated shows, including the Michael Jackson Show, the Tavis Smiley Show, the Bill Handel Show, Airtalk and FilmWeek, the Sound of Young America, Day to Day and more.


Books & Authors

Awards: The Bookie Prize?

"With the number of literary awards and bookish bonanzas growing every day, the introduction of a little action into the proceedings seems like a good bet for increased publicity," noted the Guardian in an article about the £10,000 (US$19,800) Desmond Elliott prize shortlist. "Indeed, when it comes to the promotion of literary awards these days, if William Hill haven't opened a book on it, the chances are the PR department isn't doing its job properly."

Touting bookmakers' as well as books is a worrisome trend for some: "More than any of the literary qualities of Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, the press release announcing the shortlist trumpets the fact that William Hill has quoted the book at 1/2 odds."

The Guardian also ran a more traditional announcement of the shortlist, though it was headlined "Tom Rob Smith hot favourite for Desmond Elliot prize." For the record, the finalists also include Nikita Lalwani's Gifted (2/1) and John Walsh's Sunday at the Cross Bones (3/1). The winner will be announced on June 26.


Book Brahmin: Jane Porter

The author of four novels for Grand Central Publishing/5 Spot, Jane Porter has been a finalist for the RITA award from Romance Writers of America in 2002 and 2003 and again this year, with Odd Mom Out. Her 2006 release, Flirting With Forty, picked by Redbook as its Red Hot Summer Read, was optioned by Sony Pictures for a Lifetime TV movie now in production. Porter's new release, Mrs. Perfect, hit store shelves May 5.  A single mother of two sons, Porter holds an MA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and makes her home in Bellevue, Wash., where she's working on her next novel.

On your nightstand now:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Favorite book when you were a child:  

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Your top five authors:

Edith Wharton, Henry James, Anne Lamott, Ray Bradbury, Jeanette Winterson

Book you've faked reading:

Atonement by Ian McEwan.  I was in a book club and just couldn't get into it due to life events, and I had to spend the night pretending to have read and loved it.  
Book you are an evangelist for:

The Female Brain
by Louann Brizendine, M.D.  
Book you've bought for the cover:

The San Francisco Calamity by Earthquake and Fire
edited by Charles Morris, published in 1906. It's a gorgeous dramatic cover. Thick hardback, fancy gold letters against a soft emerald green background, with a skyline in red and black flames.  

Book that changed your life:

Enemies, A Love Story
by Issac Bashevis Singer. I read this book at UCLA over spring break when I was 20 and it made me feel love and loss so intensely that it broke a bit of my heart. My father had died five years earlier, and reading Enemies, the grief came back at me, stronger, deeper, darker, and I realized the power of prose to connect, to heal and to hurt.
Favorite line from a book:

"The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour."--From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.   
Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf

Book you wish you'd read sooner:

Reading Lolita in Tehran
by Azar Nafisi

Book you can't forget:

Geek Love
by Katherine Dunn

Favorite writing book:

Zen and the Art of Writing
by Ray Bradbury


Book Review

Book Review: How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Sasa Stanisic (Grove Press, $24.00 Hardcover, 9780802118660, June 2008)

A colorful little town in Bosnia bursts into rollicking, good-humored life in Sasa Stanisic's first novel, but that's before the town is violently liberated in civil war. Stanisic's exuberant patchwork of a tale, full of endearing characters, begins and ends at the grave of the young narrator's beloved grandfather. Between the two graveside visits, over a decade of unimaginable change stretches, including the destruction of Yugoslavia.

Sasa Stanisic was 14 when his family escaped from Bosnia to Germany. At 29, he wrote the novel in German. That his tale contains so much natural, laugh-out-loud comedy speaks volumes for the author, whose autobiographical hero, Aleksandar, "somewhere between eight and fourteen," is a talkative, precocious delight, determinedly optimistic in the face of heartbreaking losses, forever making startling little observations on life that somehow get it all wrong and yet sort of right. Uninhibited and outspoken, he is perpetually being sent out of the room by exasperated adults.

Stanisic's talent blazes off page after page. The opening funeral sequence is a brilliant set piece, a stand-alone 19-page wonder that is simultaneously hilarious and devastating, an unexpectedly funny tearjerker.

Once you've met the family and friends of Aleksandar, you watch the war come and destroy their world, and his family's narrow escape. But that's only the first half of the book. Midway through the novel, you come to a novel within the novel, written by Aleksandar and called, "When everything was all right." This collection of flashback vignettes offers some of the novel's most delightful writing, including a word-perfect, profoundly touching three-and-a-half-page fishing tale, and the moving story of when the town discovers that the handsome young Italian engineer designing their new dam, whom all the women adore, is gay.

The final portion of the book contains a shocking, unforgettable soccer game between Bosnians and Serbs at ceasefire. It's a tour de force of nightmarish sports writing, with bodies and hidden mines lining the playfield, old schoolmates fighting on opposing sides of the war and the game's end set to determine life or death for the captured players.

These are just a few of the novel's wonders. Stanisic is so prodigiously full of big, open-hearted wisdom, I shudder to think what he has lived through to produce, at such an early age, such a transcendent little masterwork.-–Nick DiMartino


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: How Important are Book Groups?

I've now graded your answers to last week's book group pop quiz and you all earned an A+. Over the next few weeks, we'll share your responses to the questions and let you do the talking for a change. As always, everyone is invited to join the conversation at any point because, well, it's a conversation.

1. How important are book groups to the publishing world now?

Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., gives book groups a hearty "Yes, yes, yes" vote, adding, "I talk to book groups at least five times per month (not counting facilitating the two in-store groups). For a shop with a reputation as a children's specialty shop, our second biggest selling category is adult fiction. And I attribute this completely to our focus on book groups, the books that they are likely to choose and our ability to reach out to them with booktalks. We have roughly 50 'registered' bookclubs here. The bookclub table is the single most shopped table in the bookstore. Many people head straight there and make all of their selections, so being on the table can translate into a lengthy stay with many more sales."

"Book groups are it for publishers these days," according to Mary Bisbee-Beek, director of trade marketing and publicity for the University of Michigan Press. "They are economical and the author doesn't even have to travel if the book group has access to a speaker phone. Although it's nice for a face-to-face, it's not always possible."

Ami Greko, marketing director for Folio Literary Management, believes the importance of book groups isn't limited to the book world: "Honestly, I see them as important to the world-world (aka, the real world). It's rare that you have ten people in a room who have all read the same book. This happens for movies or albums all the time, but so rarely for books. It's depressing on one hand, but on the other I think it speaks very strongly to the way people read and how that reading is different than what publishers would like us to do. So a book club, no matter what you discuss, is a rare and unique place in the world today."

Ann Kent, founder of Book Group Expo, shared author Joshua Henkin's post with her book group earlier this month: "Josh 'gets it.' Book clubs and reading groups are about community and conversations and connecting. I have always been an avid reader, but I would not read half of what I read were it not for my book group. My life is better for having read more. Sharing a book--like a good bottle of wine--is best when done with others."

Mary Alice Gorman, co-owner of Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pa., considers book groups "very important" to her bookstore's success: "Were it not for book groups, much fiction would never be sold. Think about it. With most sales going to big box stores where selection is so limited, where else would the other trade paperbacks be selling? Chains and Amazon do nothing to support book groups, but they find support through friends in other book groups, folks with whom they work, online and from the lucky ones who have a relationship with an indie like ours. Publishers love to send writers to dinner with a book group, and writers--who engage in a solitary activity most of the time--love talking with real readers about their work."

Book groups "keep the literary dialogue alive," according to Barbara Drummond Mead of Reading Group Choices. "Libraries and booksellers have always treasured reading groups because the groups are all about books and community outreach. Reading groups help keep publishers' backlists thriving--our annual survey of the Favorite Discussible Book of the Year reports most books chosen throughout the year are three to five years old, along with many classics. The reading group market is very influential and powerful (they buy tons of books). Publishers and booksellers have known that for years, though some just got on the bandwagon a couple of years ago."

We give Joshua Henkin the final word this week: "I do think bookstores want to expand beyond the public readings format. I have nothing against readings, and I've given a lot of them, but it all depends on how many people show up. With a book group, everyone at least has read the book, so the discussion is much more elevated.  And it's much more interactive than a reading, which more and more is what people want."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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