Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, November 25, 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: Houghton Holds on Acquisitions; e-Random House

In an unusual sign of the times, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has begun "a temporary freeze" on acquiring new books in its trade and reference division. A spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that nonetheless "there are still things being considered by the acquisition committee" and wouldn't say how long the freeze would last.

The division publishes about 400 titles a year. The Journal estimated that a three-month hiatus on acquisitions would lead to 50 fewer titles eventually.


Random House, which already has more than 8,200 new and backlist titles available as e-books, is adding another 6,000 backlist titles to its e-book collection during the "coming months." The titles will be made available simultaneously to all Random's digital retailers and distributors and be downloadable to all reading devices and platforms that feature digital book content supported by accounts. For the first time, the company will offer its entire current electronic catalogue, as well as future titles, in the e-Pub format.

In a statement, Random chairman and CEO Markus Dohle said that he believes physical books will continue to be "the dominant reading format for many years" but noted that "more people everyday are enjoying reading in the electronic format."

Random House's v-p for digital operations, Matt Shatz, told the Huffington Post that e-book sales have increased by "triple digit percentages in 2008, thanks in part to's Kindle reader." Still, e-books are estimated to account for 1% or less of book sales.


The new Borders in New Orleans, La., which is the first chain bookstore to return to the city, has had a soft opening and will have its grand opening the weekend of December 6.

Some in the city have welcomed the opening as a sign of progress following Hurricane Katrina. A few have noted ironies in the location of the new Borders: a former funeral home. A "paranormal investigator" offered to check out the place for spirits, although the developer turned him down, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The arrival of Borders has also spurred some competitors to strategize. According to the Gambit Weekly, two weeks ago, Octavia Books co-owner Tom Lowenburg hosted a potluck dinner with other retailers to focus on how to educate the public about the importance of buying local. Among other measures, some in the group will do a repeat of last Saturday's New Orleans Unchained event on December 6.


The Harvard Crimson interviews Frank Kramer, who recently sold Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass. The man whom author Anne Bernay calls "an institution" talks about his life as a bookseller, from joining the family business at age 20 after his father died unexpectedly to various changes he made in the store over the years to adapt to changing markets such as offering paperbacks and used textbooks.


Bright idea of the day: Beginning next month, Powell's Books will begin drawing power from what it calls "one of the largest solar electric installations in the state of Oregon," 540 panels atop the 60,000-sq.-ft. building that's home to the bookseller's warehouse and Powell's solar system, which should pay for itself in five years, will replace about a quarter of the building's electricity usage.

In a statement, owner Michael Powell said that the project "made perfect sense for our business financially, and it supports our values as a company. We are continually looking for ways for our business to lessen its impact on the environment."


Noting that "the beauty of this store lies in the fact that you do not know what you will find each time you walk in," the Tartan, Carnegie Mellon's student newspaper, profiled Caliban Book Shop, Pittsburgh, Pa.


A pair of trailers for the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due in theaters next July, have been released. 


The 21st annual Independent & Small Press Book Fair takes place on Saturday, December 6, and Sunday, December 7, at the New York Center for Independent Publishing at 20 W. 44th Street in New York City. More than 100 presses will exhibit. Programming includes a session on the future of independent publishing, a literary trivia smackdown, how-to advice on memoirs and finding a literary agent, a read-a-thon, conversations with authors and publishers and more.

Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Center at 212-764-7021 or or go to


Sam Scinta, publisher of Fulcrum Publishing, whose headquarters has been in Golden, Colo., for 25 years, is opening a satellite office in Onalaska, Wis., where he hopes "to replicate what we have been able to do at Fulcrum for so long, namely delivering the best nonfiction and fiction books while telling the world about a region, in this case the Upper Midwest. . . . This expansion gives us a chance to reach out to the best authors in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and the Dakotas."

Scinta will head the office and is hoping to hire an assistant to act as coordinator with the main office and help with acquisitions.


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

Image of the Day: Book-Toting President-Elect

It starts already: the first photo of President-elect Obama clutching a book (the first such photo as far as we know) features Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan (Harper), which was published just last month. The AP shot showed Obama leaving the Chicago home of friend Penny Pritzker after having dinner this past Saturday.

Kaplan is a former professor of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of several biographies, including The Singular Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle.



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

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Marty Stuart's Country Music

Today on All Things Considered: Marty Stuart, who for years has taken pictures while on the road touring with country and bluegrass stars and has published a collection of photos, Country Music: The Masters (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, $49.99, 9781402214530/1402214537), which includes a CD.


Tonight on Larry King Live: Vernon E. Jordan, author of Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out (PublicAffairs, $24.95, 9781586482985/158648298X).


Tonight on the Colbert Report, in a repeat: Michael Lewis, author of Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity (Norton, $27.95, 9780393065145/0393065146).


Tomorrow the Diane Rehm Show's readers' review forcuses on The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga (Free Press, $14, 9781416562603/1416562605).


Tomorrow night on Larry King Live: Alec Baldwin, author of A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce (St. Martin's, $24.95, 9780312363369/0312363362).


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report, in a repeat: Thomas Friedman, author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.95, 9780374166854/0374166854).


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

Books & Authors

Awards: Original Voices Nominees

The nominees for the 2008 Borders Original Voices Awards, which recognize "fresh, compelling and ambitious works from the new and emerging talents," have been selected by the bookseller's corporate and store employees. A committee of corporate staff members will select the winners in each of the four categories. Winners receive $5,000, and their books will be featured in Borders's superstores.

The nominees:


  • Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles (Houghton Mifflin)
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (Riverhead)
  • The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (Dial Press)
  • The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (Morrow)
  • The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (Morrow)
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Free Press)


  • The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler by Thomas Hager (Harmony)
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee (Twelve)
  • The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner (Twelve)
  • The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale (Walker)
  • We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee (Weinstein Books)

Young Adult/Independent Reader

  • Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale Basye (Random House Books for Young Readers)
  • I Am Apache by Tanya Landman (Candlewick)
  • The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books)
  • Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams (Chicken House)
  • Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff (Ginee Seo Books)
  • Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse)

Children's Picture Books

  • Do You Do a Didgeridoo? written by Nick Page and illustrated by Sara Baker (Make Believe Ideas)
  • Ladybug Girl written by Jacky Davis and illustrated by David Soman (Dial)
  • Little Bunny Kung Fu written and illustrated by Regan Johnson (Blooming Tree Press)
  • Those Darn Squirrels! written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Clarion Books)
  • Wave written and illustrated by Suzy Lee (Chronicle Books)
  • What's Under the Bed? written and illustrated by Joe Fenton (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)


Attainment: New Books Out Next Week

Selected titles appearing next Tuesday, December 2:

Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell (Putnam, $27.95, 9780399155161/0399155163) follows another case of forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, this time in New York City.

Body with Soul: Slash Sugar, Cut Cholesterol, and Get a Jump on Your Best Health Ever
by Randy Jackson (Hudson Street Press, $24.95, 9781594630507/159463050X) combines memoir and health advice from the American Idol judge.

The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival, and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming
by Shreve Stockton (Simon & Schuster, $23, 9781416592181/1416592180) chronicles a New Yorker's captivation with the Wyoming wilderness and her attempt to raise an orphaned coyote pup.

Hooking Up with Tila Tequila: A Guide to Love, Fame, Happiness, Success, and Being the Life of the Party by Tila Tequila and Sarah Tomlinson (Scribner, $26, 9781439101537/1439101531) delves into the life of a popular MySpace user.

The Charlemagne Pursuit: A Novel by Steve Berry (Ballantine, $26, 9780345485793/0345485793) follows former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone as he seeks the truth behind his father's death during a secret submarine mission.


Book Review

Mandahla: Mouth Wide Open

Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite by John Thorne (North Point Press, $16.00 Paperback, 9780374531430, November 2008)

If you have not experienced John Thorne's writing, hie thee to a cookbook display and pick up Mouth Wide Open. John Thorne and his wife, Matt, have been writing about food since at least the '80s, and their first book, Simple Cooking, was filled with wit, reminiscence, food history and a sensibility that is timeless. This latest offering, their sixth, is no different--savory recipes mixed with rich prose.

In his chapter on breakfast, he says this meal is usually a conservative one--"who wants to get all chefly first thing in the morning? On the other hand, impulse is harder to restrain when you're just up and you know that nobody's looking." That impulse was at work when he decided to save the ends of a baguette about to be tossed, fill them with a bit of butter and eggs and create baked Bread-cup Eggs. "It is especially pleasant to rescue something headed for the garbage and work a little bit of magic with it . . . even if the only person delighted with the trick is yourself."

In the chapter "Pasta with Anchovies," he starts, "The ruminative cook and your ordinary dog have at least this much in common--both have the most fun when let off the leash." He goes on to discuss a dish he has been messing about with for several months, Pasta Ammuddicata, spaghetti with anchovies. In the old days, ammuddicata--bread crumbs--elevated a simple dish into a treat. Nowadays, the anchovies are the special thing. So, off with the leash:
Brutal simplicity in cooking is a powerful force that can attract and repel in equal measure. For example, our Calabrian version is hardly as simple as pasta with anchovies gets. In The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, Giuliano Bugialli's formula is refined down to three ingredients [anchovies, olive oil and black pepper]. The hair-shirt severity of this has its own effect on the cook's imagination--more so, I suspect, than Bugialli intended. Take the common addition of garlic. Why, the ascetic might ask, gild the lily, when anchovies are the very epitome of pungency? The answer, of course, is that garlic expands pungency's flavor spectrum. In other words, the hair shirt calls out for the bed of nails. And that in turn provokes a desire for the lashing delivered by some fiery chile pepper, the astringent bite of parsley. "Anchovies?" replies our inner eremite right back to Brother Giuliano. "I'll give you anchovies . . ."

Thorne delights the reader with both food and words, and as he says, he doesn't follow recipes; he interacts with them. The cook who has this book will be able to enter into the conversation with delight.--Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: Common sense and wit, along with an adventurous spirit, enliven this book of recipes and prose.


Mandahla: Safe Passage

Safe Passage: The Remarkable True Story of Two Sisters Who Rescued Jews from the Nazis by Ida Cook (Harlequin, $13.95 Paperback, 9780373892013, November 2008)

Pluck (n.)--courage or resolution in the face of difficulties; bravery and a strong desire to succeed. This old-fashioned word ably describes the lives of Ida and Louise Cook, sisters whose story is told in Ida Cook's memoir, Safe Passage, first published in 1950. Harlequin has reprinted it, with some minor editing, as part of its new nonfiction program. The publisher could not have chosen a finer book. It's charming, harrowing, witty, filled with compassion, courage and exuberance.

Ida and Louise Cook were born in the early 1900s, two ordinary Englishwomen with a quiet life in the London suburbs and jobs as a copying typist and civil servant. That all changed one day in 1923 when Louise heard a gramophone. She arrived home slightly dazed and said that she must have a gramophone. They scraped the money together and purchased it along with 10 records, including two recordings by Amelita Galli-Curci and Alma Gluck. They were transported by Galli-Curci's voice, and the next year, the sisters discovered opera, which became a lifelong obsession. The Cooks decided to hear Galli-Curci sing opera--in New York. They saved for two years, scrimping on food and clothes. They wrote to Galli-Curci, sailed to New York in 1926, and there and in London began meeting opera stars--Rosa Ponselle, Viorica Ursuleac, Clemens Krauss, Elisabeth Rethberg, Ezio Pinza and, after the war, Maria Callas. When they returned to London, Ida wanted to make a bit of extra money "and decided--like many a deluded creature before me--that the easiest thing might be to write something." Thus began the career of one of Mills & Boons' bestselling romance authors, under the name of Mary Burchell.

Then Hitler came into power. In 1934, Ursuleac asked the sisters if they would look after a friend of hers, and they took care of their first refugee. By 1935, they had "set our hand to the plough of practical assistance, and we did not look back until the war stopped us." They organized forged documents, cajoled civil servants into backdating letters and traveled the country to raise money and support, since England would take refugees only with guaranteed income or sponsorship. They traveled to Germany and Austria almost every weekend in the mid-1930s to meet with people trying to flee the Nazis and to smuggle out jewelry and furs that the refugees could sell in England. "The same naïve technique by which we had got ourselves to the States for our pleasure was used when we stumbled into Europe and began to save lives."

When World War II started, the Cooks' refugee work was over. They had been living amid great drama and urgency, and now, oddly, the war brought both boredom and release from tension. Until the Blitz, that is, when Ida volunteered to be a night warden at a shelter in Bermondsey. After one bad night in April, the air was filled with bits of charred paper: "The last of the big book centres in the City had been hit that night, and in the tremendous draught created by the fires, the remains of millions of books had been drawn up and now were drifting down, sometimes miles away in the outer suburbs."

After the war, they traveled again to New York, reuniting with refugees and prima donnas, happy to see a brighter future filled with life-sustaining music. Ida Cook's memoir was originally titled We Followed Our Stars, and they did--opera stars and stars of destiny. Their simplicity is affecting, their humility without pretense, their concern for others foremost. What had one refugee's "dear, good, useful life" cost them? "Some trouble, some eloquence and some money. Nothing more. The lack of proportion between the two is frightening." There we have it: two good women, bringing out the best in themselves and others, doing what needed to be done.--Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: A memoir of two sisters, Ida and Louise Cook, who followed their passion for opera into a harrowing time of rescuing refugees from Nazi Germany. Their story is told by Ida with wit, warmth and humility.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: A Black Friday By Any Other Name . . .

After lengthy consultation with my key advisers, I've decided to assume personal responsibility for the day after Thanksgiving by rechristening it Gray Friday. I believe this will more accurately reflect the uncertainty of the upcoming retail holiday season.

In the spirit of a year as unhinged as this one has become, I wondered what we're expecting--and how we've prepared--for Gray Friday. So I asked around.

"I think our sales will hold up pretty well," says Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books, Miami, Fla. "We usually have reduced expectations as we're primarily in non-mall locations. Over Black Friday, most folks hit the malls first for bargains and then head over to us. We're hoping to get that first wave this year, though, because we're going to promote the notion of books as a 'value' gift. Not necessarily value = price, though. So, the notion of IndieBound and how we can get the message of our independence across will also be important; we want our customers to know that when they support us, they also support their community."

Watermark Books, Wichita, Kan., is featuring "a black coupon good for Black Friday that went out with last week's e-letter," notes Sarah Bagby. "Our customers love coupons and they were successful last year. Our expectations are not widely varied from previous years. During the latter two weeks of October and all through November, three of us have gone out on the circuit, speaking to book clubs, philanthropic groups and auxiliary groups. We asked attendees how they felt about giving books as presents and whether they will give the same amount as in previous years. The answers were overwhelmingly positive. Customers seemed adamant about giving books to facilitate an authentic experience, rather than more stuff or gadgets."

Village Books, Bellingham, Wash., also sent a coupon to its e-mail list, seeking to draw customers in on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Owner Chuck Robinson hopes "that the exposure will help on Black Friday, even though the coupon won't be valid then. Our historic district always has a two-day gallery walk on Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year the entire area has ramped it up with a carriage-arrival of a Victorian Santa, performers throughout the district and other activities."

November sales have been good thus far at Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa. Alice Meyer is "optimistic about sales next Friday. We don't have anything special planned. I guess I made the decision when I opened that I can't compete with donuts at midnight and $20 DVRs. Not to say that we're not nervous about the economy and the shopping season, and I am monitoring everything very closely. We love IndieBound, and I think our customers are more aware than ever of the impact of buying locally."

According to Joe Foster of Maria's Bookshop, Durango, Colo., "Historically, Black Friday has been a pretty busy day for us, but not outrageously so. I'm honestly predicting a really solid holiday, despite the shrieking Nostradomi in the news. As for any new strategies, I've been a bit more judicious with inventory and, much to the chagrin of our suppliers I think, we got ridiculously aggressive with returns last month. We support and exploit the MPIBA Winter Catalogue very heavily, doing newspaper inserts the Sunday before Thanksgiving and we historically see a huge response from that."

Russ Marshalek of Wordsmiths Books, Decatur, Ga., says his expectations are "tempered and minimal at best. The economy's been a friend to no one, and, honestly, bookstores/book sales aren't something usually impacted, in my frame of reference, by Black Friday." Wordsmiths will be "focusing on gift titles rather than the 'big' books. Also, despite the economic downturn we're carrying on with our event-focused in-store promotions to continue to encourage people to come into the store."

Expecting "a quiet Friday," Lauretta Nagel of Constellation Books, Reisterstown, Md., has an alternative plan to enhance sales: "My retail neighbors and I are banding together to hold a November Market Days Open House up and down Main Street, in the hopes that we will attract people who might otherwise shop the mall."

Linda Ramsdell of the Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, Vt., says, "Black Friday is traditionally not a big sales day for us, so we're expecting 'the usual.' We haven't done anything different for a Black Friday promotion, as we are putting the focus on our 20th anniversary sale on December 6. We will send out a newsletter before Thanksgiving, reminding people how important it is, now more than ever, to spend money locally."

At Red Fox Books, Glens Falls, N.Y., owner Susan Fox says, "We're just not sure what to expect this year. We have been rather busy these past couple of weekends, so we hope that bodes well for the rest of the season. We haven't found Black Friday to be especially big for us in the past two years. We're not doing anything special for it, largely because the following weekend is a town-wide event and we try to save our energies for that."

Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va., sees "an overall holiday season that is slightly down, but not as bad as the grim forecasts. I have noticed an increased awareness on the part of our customers about where they spend money and what the long-term value of that investment will be. While price-conscious, I'm hearing more parents explain to their children why they are here rather than the mall, because we are connected to their community.

"Also, we are reaching out to our fellow local businesses with a special discount campaign for people in our neighborhood who are in the service industry. Service industry people are their own huge network, particularly those in restaurant and retail and they support their own. By reaching out to them by both providing incentives for them to shop with us and by patronizing their businesses, I hope to create positive word of mouth that they will then share with those they serve."

Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., says, "We tend to do steady, brisk business on the two days following Thanksgiving. We get a fair number of families coming in bringing extended family from out of town. Many of our customers like to show off to their family where their gifts come from. So we don't plan any big sales or other pushes. Our December is jammed with activity--onsite and off."

And, in a thankful mood, Roger Doeren of Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., notes that for his bookshop, "the day after Thanksgiving is a day to meet and greet our customers with a positive, helpful and thankful attitude and make that day, just like any other day, into whatever it will be; turning 'Read' into 'Black.' The big picture is read in 365 days rather then the minutiae of one day."

As for me, I'll be on the sales floor for my 17th straight Black--now Gray--Friday. I'll tell how that went next week, and I invite you to send me your reactions and even photos, too.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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