Shelf Awareness for Monday, December 1, 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

Quotation of the Day

Indie Bookstores the 'Sober Equivalent' of Local Bars

"Independent bookstores are the sober equivalent of your local bar: Not only does everyone know your name, they know what you like."--New York Magazine, showcasing "fourteen bibliophilic delights" in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.


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


Notes: Bookstore as Hub of the Community; Cambridge Community

"A bookstore, by its very nature, becomes the hub of the community," Peter Makin, co-owner of Brilliant Books, Suttons Bay, Mich., told the Traverse City Record-Eagle, which profiled the bookshop that opened last December and "has quickly become a part of the community's fabric."

Asked what he is currently reading, Makin replied, "a lot of book reviews and publishers' catalogues. As a good friend of mine, who's been in the book business for years, warned me early on: If you want to cure yourself of the habit of reading, open a bookstore. Actually it isn't all quite that bad, but opportunities to read for pleasure are not what they were."


Harvard Square is alive and well, according to the Boston Globe, which observed that "booksellers represent the authentic retail identity of a district that serves Cambridge's confederacy of scholars and intellectual aspirants. The book trade has suffered some attrition in recent years, but you can still climb the granite steps into tiny Grolier Poetry Book Shop, where slender volumes of verse ascend the shelves toward the heavens.

"Just around the corner, Harvard Book Store, whose only relation to the university is its proximity, remains one of the nation's leading independent booksellers. . . . Wandering through Schoenhof's Foreign Books is a little like trekking a giant map . . . And for readers who still get all fuzzy inside over Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Revolution Books manages to keep the proletarian polemical flame lighted in these deeply capitalist times."


Even in the face of an uncertain holiday season for retailers, "some bookstores aren't going to give up without a fight," the Los Angeles Times reported in an article headlined "To Live and Buy in L.A." The piece featured Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, and Brand Bookstore, Glendale.


The New York Times Book Review has listed its 100 "notable books" of 2008. Not to be outdone, Michiko Kakutani and Janet Maslin, book critics for the New York Times, shared their picks for favorite books of 2008. Also featured were "Gift Books Worth Buying a Coffee Table For" and "Art and Architecture Books."


Our review of A Great Idea at the Time last Wednesday had an incorrect note about St. John's College, which has campuses in Annapolis, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M. The school indeed adopted a Great Books curriculum in 1937, but was founded in 1696 and is "the third-oldest college in the country," Robin J. Dunn, director of the St. John's College Bookstore, wrote.

Dunn also noted an amusing, unrelated IndieBound phenomenon: "We've been fielding regular requests for the 'Snack. Nap. Read.' poster. Could it be connected with the fact that, in the local argot, 'Naptown' means Annapolis? Slightly, perhaps. But really, people just like the poster. And it presents a sublime opportunity to introduce customers to the IndieBound website and let them dive into a whole new river (as it were) of books."


Congratulations to DIESEL: A Bookstore, which is holding a grand opening party this coming Sunday, December 7, 1-4 p.m., for its new store in the Brentwood Country Mart in Santa Monica, Calif. The event will feature "complimentary refreshments while we chat about books and writing with people who share our passion for books."



Larry Robin, owner of Robin's Bookstore, Philadelphia, Pa., who is closing the street-level part of his business at the end of January (Shelf Awareness, November 18, 2008), told the local Fox station that the store's sales were down between 10% and 15% the last three to six months. "If I thought it was a short term problem, I would've tried to hang in there," he said. "But I don't think it's a short term problem."


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

Black Friday: General Retail and Booksellers in the News

Although most statistics about Black Friday sales at general retailers were more positive than expected given the dismal state of the economy, observers speculated that crowds that swarmed stores Friday--and sadly caused the death of a Wal-Mart employee in New York State--were drawn mostly by unsustainable, unprofitable discounts. They also noted that store traffic apparently trailed off on Saturday and Sunday.

Still, some of the news was positive. According to the Wall Street Journal, ShopperTrak estimated that store sales rose 3% compared to last year. ShopperTrak also said foot traffic was up 2%. A National Retail Federation survey found that shoppers spent an average of $372.57 during the weekend, up more than 7%. An America's Research Group survey found that 70% of shoppers bought only deeply discounted items. For its part, comScore said that online spending on Black Friday rose 1%.


"The crowds also were spilling into Anderson's Book Shop," reported the Naperville, Ill., Sun, which interviewed bookseller Erin Keables. She "said this year's Black Friday sales were better than those last year. And on Saturday, the store drew a steady stream of customers for story time programs and a visit from Santa Claus."

"It's been O.K. this fall," Keables added. "A little bit down from last fall but, overall, we're holding our own."


Santa Claus arrived early, literally and figuratively, for Arlene DeMonstoy, owner of Ye Olde Vineyard antiques shop and bookstore, North East, Pa. She told the Erie Times-News "she was buoyed by North East's version of Black Friday when Santa arrived in town Friday. . . . 'We had lots of families, a big turnout,' she said, adding her sales--especially of her slashed-price used books--are up this holiday season rather than down. She believes it is because people are looking at ways to save money."

"Books are a specialty here and they're much more affordable than new," she added.


KITV-4 in Honolulu, Hawaii, reported that "while thousands of people did their Black Friday shopping at malls and major big box stores, another group of customers spent their money at small, independent stores. . . . Bookstore owner Pat Banning said her customers keep coming to support the local flavor."

"It would be sad if that flavor that we give to the community goes away," said Banning, who owns Bookends Bookstore, Kailua. "It would be too bad. Plain vanilla is a lovely flavor, but you know, you need a little peppermint in there occasionally, too."


Rick Havlak, owner of the Bennington Bookshop, Bennington, Vt., told the Banner that sales for the Thanksgiving weekend as a whole were "a much better barometer for me" than Black Friday alone in terms of holiday season potential. The Banner added that Havlak considers the week before Christmas "a much busier time for the bookstore," though Black Friday patrons "were definitely Christmas shopping."


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

Borders Results, Part Two: Fine Tuning Inventory

More on Borders's third quarter results, from the company's conference call with analysts, courtesy of Seeking Alpha:

Before the economy headed downhill--CEO George Jones called the current retail climate "by far the most difficult I've ever seen during my 36-year retail career"--Borders had anticipated "much stronger earnings." But then the company responded quickly, Jones said: "We got in front of this storm . . . early this year we revised our planned sales to very conservative levels and took the necessary steps to reduce inventory and expenses. So even though customer traffic has declined during this period [and] sales have been tough, we have still managed our business well and the result is that we have still been able to make major progress on improving our balance sheet." He noted that Borders "actually turned out to be one of the very few retailers that did not report significantly decreased operating earnings for the quarter."

Categories that did well in the fall included children's, benefitting from the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series, as well as Paperchase gifts and stationery. The company took what Jones called "an industry-leading position in our stores with dedicated tables featuring the Twilight Saga books as well as a tremendous assortment of other items related to the film [Twilight, which was released 10 days ago], some of those which are exclusive to Borders that are popular with tweens and teens."

After a reduction of about a third, music, whose sales have dropped steadily for years, now occupies only 7% of total floor space at Borders. The areas formerly dedicated to music now feature "growth categories" like children's and bargain books.

Borders expects strong-selling titles this season to include Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, James Patterson's Cross Country and Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Borders was able to reduce inventory 19.5% in part, Jones said, because it collaborated "more closely with vendors on opportunities such as product flow, accelerated returns, assortment management and other efforts, some of which are standard practice in many industries that have been long overdue in the bookselling business." He predicted that these efforts will make Borders "the better run and more profitable company."

At the same time, Jones said that the "aggressive and multifacted" inventory tightening had "at least some degree of negative impact on our sales." Borders is now "fine-tuning" by "doing a store-by-store deep dive into our inventory, returning what is not selling and adding back in where we may have cut too deeply at specific store locations." The average superstore has more than 100,000 titles.

The company also made a major effort to reduce shrinkage and is beginning a program with the help of a consultant to improve gross margin.'s sales of $11.9 million in the third quarter were "lower than expected" and caused by "overall economic conditions" as well as a delay in launching. The company doesn't expect to break even in online sales this year. The company has just finished opening in kiosks in each Borders store.

Commenting on, Jones added that "frankly it seems like we had one sort of technical snafu after another and just a lot of odd things" that were only recently brought under control. As a result, Borders had been "reluctant" to market its online sales unit fully.

CFO Ed Wilhelm said that Borders is "leveraging our distribution network to a greater degree and creating a more just-in-time inventory model." will help in making special orders easier to do in-store.

The Borders Rewards loyalty program has nearly 30 million members.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Boy Talks About Talking to Girls

This morning on Good Morning America: Les Stroud, host of Discovery Channel's Survivorman and author of Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere--Alive (Collins, $19.95, 9780061373510/0061373516).


This morning on the Today Show: Bobbi Brown, author of Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual: For Everyone from Beginner to Pro (Springboard Press, $32, 9780446581349/0446581348).

Also on Today: Randy Jackson, author of Body with Soul: Slash Sugar, Cut Cholesterol, and Get a Jump on Your Best Health Ever (Hudson Street Press, $24.95, 9781594630507/159463050X). The American Idol judge is on the View today, too.


Today on the Diane Rehm Show: Michael Kinsley, author of Creative Capitalism: A Conversation with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Other Economic Leaders (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781416599418/141659941X).


Today on the Ellen DeGeneres Show: Alec Greven, the nine-year-old author of How to Talk to Girls (Collins, $9.99, 9780061709999/0061709999), which stemmed from a class assignment.


Today on Oprah: Barbara Walters, author of Audition (Knopf, $29.95, 9780307266460/030726646X).


Tonight on the Colbert Report: Khaled Hosseini, author of A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead, $16, 9781594483851/159448385X), which is now out in paperback.


Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Michelle Duggar, author of The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America's Largest Families--How they Do It (Howard Books, $15.99, 9781416585633/141658563X).


Tomorrow on Regis & Kelly: Terry Fator, America's Got Talent winner and author of Who's the Dummy Now? (New Holland, distributed by Tuttle, $16.95, 9781741107289/1741107288). He also appears on ABC News Now.


Tomorrow on CNN's Newsroom: Curtis Roosevelt, author of Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of my Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor (PublicAffairs, $29.95, 9781586485542/1586485547).


Tomorrow on the Tavis Smiley Show: Quincy Jones, author of The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey & Passions (Insight Editions, $45, 9781933784670/1933784679).


Tomorrow on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes: Matthew Alexander, author of How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (Free Press, $26, 9781416573159/1416573151).


Books & Authors

Awards: Inaugural Cundill International Prize; Cervantes Prize

All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World by Stuart B. Schwartz (Yale University Press, $40, 9780300125801/0300125801), published in June, has won the inaugural Cundill International Prize and Lecture in History at McGill University. The award, sponsored by the Cundill Foundation and McGill, Montreal, Canada, goes to "to an individual who has published a book determined to have had (or likely to have) a profound literary, social and academic impact in the area of history." The Cundill Prize is the largest nonfiction historical literature award in the world and carries a prize of US$75,000.

Jury member Rogert Chartier commented: "The topic is engaging--one of the main issues of our time: tolerance. The research is outstanding, based on a long familiarity and original readings of inquisitorial archives all around the world, the scope of the study is worldwide, crossing our interest or preoccupations with globalization, and the lesson is profound: even for the humblest folk and within the worst situation it is possible to stand for generous and strong beliefs."

Schwartz is a professor of history at Yale.


Catalan novelist Juan Marsé won the €125,000 (US$158,625) Cervantes prize, "the Spanish-language equivalent of the Nobel prize for literature," according to the Guardian. The award will be presented by King Juan Carlos next April 23, the anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. 

Marsé was honored "for a body of work focusing on the hardships of life in post-civil war Spain," including Últimas tardes con Teresa (Last Evenings with Teresa), Si te dicen que caí (If They Tell You I Fell) and Rabos de lagartija (Lizard Tails). 

"The density and intensity of his writing, and the imaginative process, are what mark him out as a novelist," said Nick Caistor, his English translator. "He has created worlds of the imagination set against the often horrible realities of Spain after the civil war. His characters always escape to the world of fiction, when the world outside is grey and depressing, and he's particularly good at seizing the imaginative world of children." 


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next picks:


The Memorist by M.J. Rose (Mira, $24.95, 9780778325840/0778325849). "M.J. Rose does it again with The Memorist, another breathtaking thriller. She interweaves a multiplicity of themes involving a quest to resolve issues from the past, the music of Beethoven, a secret society, and the threats of terrorism--bringing all the plot strands together for an incredible denouement."--Mary Alice Gorman, Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein (Yale, $22, 9780300116953/300116950). "How could a string bean with an oversize forehead, jug ears, and an obvious toupee be one of the romantic leads of movie history? Epstein meditates on this heavenly hoofer from every angle, and the results will have you jonesing for a TCM movie marathon."--Daniel Goldin, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee, Wis.


The Better World Shopping Guide, Second Edition: Every Dollar Makes a Difference
by Ellis Jones (New Society, $9.95, 9780865716308/0865716307). "The Better World Shopping Guide is an important little book that calls for changes in all our shopping habits. The book rates American companies based on 15 years' research of their records on the environment, human rights, community involvement, and other criteria. I'll soon be switching my credit card company, just one of the many changes I'll make to be a more responsible consumer."--Nancy Olson, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C.

For Ages 4 to 8

Millie in the Snow by Alexander Steffensmeier (Walker Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 9780802798008/0802798004). "Moo-hoo! Madcap, mail-toting Millie is back with another hilarious adventure delivering holiday gifts with unexpected consequences. Once again, Steffensmeier delivers a charming tale beefed up with some of the best illustrations around, full of visual fun and puns."--Julie Shimada, Maria's Bookshop, Durango, Colo.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Book Review: Shoot an Iraqi

Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun by Wafaa Bilal (City Lights Books, $16.95 Paperback, 9780872864917, November 2008)

Wafaa Bilal and Kari Lydersen tell two intricately intertwined stories in this provocative and illuminating book. One is a vivid documentation of a month-long interactive art installation (through diary entries and photographs); the other is a memoir of life under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Bilal, an art professor and Iraqi refugee living in Chicago, designed "Domestic Tension," a gallery installation that required him not only to be present without interruption for a month but also to be the target of paintballs fired by visitors to the Internet site he had set up. A real-time web cam allowed visitors to see the installation, choose to fire or not fire by remote control and monitor the damage done by themselves and others.

Bilal hoped that his project would comment on the nature of modern technological warfare and show what living in a war zone, always under attack, looks like. He noted that the technology used for his installation is the same as the technology that allows military personnel stationed at computers to drop a bomb on a target that is thousands of miles away.

In its month's life, the website received 80 million visitors, and more than 60,000 shots were fired at Bilal. Photographs illustrate the transformation of a pristine white gallery space into one submerged in yellow goo from fired paintballs. As Bilal observed, "It's an entirely man-made disaster. That's what war is."

Bilal also learned how cruel and malicious people can be in the anonymous world of the Internet. One hacker converted the single-shot paintball gun into a machine gun. The chat room set up to facilitate dialogue logged comments so hateful and off-the-wall that Bilal's experience became more intense than expected. "I seem to be filling quite a range of roles for different people," he wrote while dodging shots. "Symbol of the anti-war movement; lightning rod for hatred and racism; subject of intellectual discussion."

Counterpoint to details about the installation are Bilal's memories of his childhood, student days in Iraq and his escape from the reign of terror that Saddam Hussein visited on his country. His first-hand witness testimony is eye-opening and disturbing. Imagine family members recruited to spy on other family members and reporting back to the secret police. Imagine an unfounded accusation being sufficient to justify executing a person on the spot. "The motherland of my nostalgic memories doesn't exist any longer," Bilal lamented in this strikingly personal record of how a people who once loved humor so much now seem unable to laugh.--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: Shoot an Iraqi is an invaluable work of political art and a clear-eyed view of the profoundly disturbing fate of present-day Iraq.


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