Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Quotation of the Day
Attention Information Providers, Formerly Known as Booksellers
Tom Clarkson of Cumberland Systems Review Group, Nashville, Tenn., who is "rapidly completing" his fourth decade in book distribution and bookselling, writes:
I am concerned by suggestions that booksellers should oppose digital presentations of books because they are, at least at present, an inferior means of conveying information. Make no mistake, for me personally, digital is not for every purpose in every situation. I composed these comments on a screen, but I edited them on paper.
My offspring and my grandchildren, however, are living in a different world. I don't expect they'd heed my admonition to "get a book" any more than my grandfather paid attention to "get a horse" when his early car broke down.
Digital book technology is now in the toddler stage at best, yet it is gaining fans. After an in-depth survey of current digital reader offerings, even Danielle Belopotosky, a self-described "real book person," wrote in the Circuits section of last Thursday's New York Times, "So I've come around on my opposition to ebooks. Somewhat."
For my part, I was once dazzled by Howdy Doody on a nine-inch black-and-white TV screen. Such television as I now watch is presented in crisp definition and living color on a screen that is measured in feet. (No comment here on the comparison of content quality.) Technology does advance and digital book technology will be no exception.
I cast my vote in the discussion with the approach advocated by Lisa Baudoin last Thursday. My hope is that our efforts can be directed toward positive influences on the technology of digital books along with participation in distribution by all parties.
I suggest that, through our various industry groups, we support:
- Roy Blount Jr.'s appeal on last Tuesday's New York Times op-ed page for appropriate payment to authors of material presented digitally.
- A similar program for sales reps whose ability to provide valuable guidance to booksellers is not diminished by digital delivery.
- Open source encoding formats so that all booksellers can participate in providing digital content (and not just the servers somewhere in cyber land).
- And, yes, improvements in screen presentation.
Rather than opposing the incoming tide of digital delivery and risking being engulfed, I urge information providers (formerly known as booksellers) to ride the swell.
Notes: Consumer Fist Loosening Slightly?; Store Closings
No surprise: U.S. consumer spending has continued to contract--at a 4% annualized rate in the last half of 2008--to the point where the savings rate has jumped to 5% of disposable income, the Wall Street Journal reported. But there is a glimmer of hope, the paper said: "the declines in consumer spending, the biggest driver of U.S. economic growth, are abating. The Commerce Department reported that consumer spending rose in January by a seasonally adjusted 0.4%, or $44.8 billion, the first increase in seven months, as heavy discounts spurred some post-holiday sales." Also personal income rose slightly.
Little, Brown will publish the late David Foster Wallace's unfinished novel, The Pale King, early next year. Wallace, who committed suicide in September, had been working on the book for many years. Little, Brown said that the book is set "at an IRS tax-return processing center in Illinois in the mid 1980s" and is the story of "a crew of entry-level processors, 'wigglers' in IRS jargon (for their similarity to newly hatched tadpoles), and their attempts to do their job in the face of soul-crushing tedium and bureaucratic malevolence. The novel's main character, David Wallace, is newly arrived at this job and learning from all around him amid epic institutional confusion."
The Pale King will include notes, outlines and other material.
On May 1, in time for Father's Day, Regnery Publishing is publishing a biography of Paul Harvey, the radio personality who died on Saturday at age 90. Good Day: The Paul Harvey Story is being written by Paul J. Batura, an aide to Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. The book will tell, Regnery said, "the heart-warming, all-American story of one of the best-known radio voices in history" and will encompass "his humble beginnings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a janitor and errand boy for a local radio station, to his unparalleled career of more than 50 years with ABC Radio."
Wordsmiths Books, Decatur, Ga., has closed. In an e-mail to customers, owner Zachary Steele said that he had "explored every possibility open to me" to keep the store open, "but the sheer magnitude of the decline in sales alone (on the heels of our efforts to right the boat) from our current economic downturn has long since evaporated the fumes. Frankly put, there's nothing left to make the engine go, and sitting on the side of the road with a thumb out doesn't seem to earn you much grace as a business."
He continued: "For two years, Wordsmiths Books has been recognized for its events, for its atmosphere, and for its venture into a new media that stretches well beyond traditional marketing methods. From a purely idealistic point of view, we achieved what we had hoped to achieve."
Last August, Steele had asked the public for help. Sales picked up in September, but the bottom fell out in October, Steele told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Everything started drying up. The whole Christmas season was horrible."
Steele worked at now-defunct Chapter 11 Books before opening Wordsmiths (Shelf Awareness, June 13, 2007). Among his staff was Russ Marshalek and other Chapter 11 alumni.
Sadly another store closing story: Town Center Booksellers, Basalt, Colo., will close at the end of March, the Aspen Times reported. General manager Fred Durham told the paper that sales have been off since September.
Owned by Louise and Clay Bennett, who are open to offers to buy the store, Town Center Booksellers has about 2,000 square feet of space, puts on many events and has supported the Aspen Writers' Foundation.
Virgin Megastores, known primarily for music but also a seller of books, is likely to end all operations this year, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The company, which once had 23 stores in North America, is down to six, and three are definitely closing this spring. The stores to be closed include the Times Square store in New York City. While the chain is apparently profitable, without its Times Square store, it will lose money.
The chain has been owned by a real estate company since 2007. The company decided that it could make more money selling the lease of the Times Square store than by running the store.
In its People Meter column, the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed random customers at City Lights Books. Our favorite was Kate Dennis, a law student at the University of Michigan, who reads To Kill a Mockingbird "probably once a year. I always get something new out of it. It's a big part of why I wanted to go to law school. It always makes me feel better again."
She added that she identifies with Scout and particularly likes "the part where she says about Boo Radley something like, 'You know, Atticus, he wasn't so bad once you got to know him.' I think most people aren't too scary, once you get to know them."
Pennie Picks: The God of Small Things
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has chosen The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Random House, $15, 9780812979657/0812979656) as her pick of the month for March. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:
"Like many people I've become increasingly interested in India, its people and its culture. That interest nudged me into revisiting the 1997 Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things. . . .
"Set in India in the late 1960s, the story follows 7-year-old twins Estha and Rahel, and shows how they come to see that the small things that happen in their lives become the things that define them. The story includes their 9-year-old cousin, Sophie, and the bitter and unfulfilled adults who also shape the twins' lives. Ultimately this is a powerful novel about politics, forbidden love and relationships."
Pennie's picks also include:
Replay by Ken Grimwood (Harper, $13.95, 9780688161125/068816112X), which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and "has something for everyone--encompassing elements of tragedy, romance and science fiction."
My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath (Schwartz & Wade, $16.99, 9780375845826/0375845828). "It would be selfish to ask for 100 children's books this adept at capturing a sense of fun, innocence and wonder, so for now I'll be content with just this one."
Heath: A Family's Tale by Janet Fife-Yeomans (Pier 9, $24.26, 9781741963885/1741963885). "Well-researched, with insight into [Heath Ledger's] family's troubles back home in Australia and his battles with personal demons, this book is nothing shy of a tribute to the actor whose life ended long before any of his fans and admirers were ready."
Media and Movies
Watchmen, based on the popular graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, opens this Friday, March 6. Zack Snyder (300) directs this story set in an alternate 1980s America in which costumed heroes are commonplace. A team of retired vigilantes are called back into action when they discover a plot to discredit and destroy every superhero.
Key related books are:
- Watchmen by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons (DC Comics, hardcover $39.99, 9781401219260/1401219268; paperback $19.99, 9780930289232/0930289234)
- Watchmen: The Absolute Edition by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons (DC Comics, $75, 9781401207137/1401207138)
- Watchmen: The Film Companion by Peter Aperlo (Titan Books, hardcover, $29.95, 9781848561595/1848561598; paperback, $19.95, 9781848560673/1848560672)
- Watchmen: The Art of the Film by Peter Aperlo (Titan Books, $40, 9781848560680/1848560680)
- Watchmen: Portraits by Clay Enos (Titan Books, $50, 9781848560697/1848560699)
In other Watchmen news, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art at 594 Broadway in New York City has an exhibition called "the Art of Watchmen" through May 2 that includes photographs of the cast take by Clay Enos (and appearing in Watchmen: Portraits), photos from director Snyder's "war room" and original artwork from the graphic novel. This Thursday, the Museum is holding an advance screening of the movie. Afterwards Enos will sign copies of his book. Tickets are $100; $75 for MoCCA members. Call 212-254-3511 for more information.
Media Heat: Carl Wilson and the Power of a Red Carpet Namecheck
Today on Dr. Phil: Shmuley Boteach, author of The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life (HarperOne, $25.99, 9780061668357/0061668354).
Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Carl Wilson, author of Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (Continuum Books, $12.95, 9780826427885/082642788X). The book, a title in the 33 1/3 series about individual albums and their performers, in this case about Celine Dion and Let's Talk About Love, was mentioned by actor James Franco during the Academy Awards red carpet interviews, which led to a burst of publicity and the Colbert booking. Franco is taking a writing course at Columbia taught by Jonathan Lethem, who assigned the book to the class.
Books & Authors
Awards: Golden Kite Winners; L.A. Times Book Award Nominees
The winners and honorees of the 2009 Golden Kite Awards, sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the only award for children's book authors and artists judged by their peers, are:
- Fiction: Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins (Candlewick)
- Nonfiction: A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts by Pamela S. Turner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
- Picture Book Text: A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick)
- Picture Book Illustration: Last Night, illustrated and written by Hyewon Yum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
- Fiction: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Holt Books for Young Readers)
- Nonfiction: The Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy, and Black Holes by Ellen Jackson, photographed and illustrated by Nic Bishop (Houghton Mifflin)
- Picture Book Text: Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Holt Books for Young Readers)
- Picture Book Illustration: I Love My New Toy, illustrated and written by Mo Willems (Hyperion)
Winners receive $2,500 and trips to Los Angeles, Calif., to attend the award ceremony at the SCBWI's annual summer conference in August. In addition, editors of winning books receive $1,000, and the art director of the winning picture book illustration title receives $1,000. For more information about the awards, go to scbwi.org/news_info.asp.
The nominees in nine categories for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are listed on the Times website. Winners will be announced at the beginning of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which will be held April 25-26. The winner of Kirsch Award is Robert Alter, a professor at UC Berkeley and author of 22 works on the Bible, literary modernism and contemporary Hebrew literature.
Shelf Sample: A Homemade Life
Do we need another memoir with recipes? Don't bother saying "no." It won't stop the cascade of confession and cilantro. But even if you are tired of the genre, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg (Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781416551058/1416551050, March 3, 2009) will change your attitude. What first caught my attention was a recipe for banana bread, which I made that day. While swooning over the bread, I read the book. What a treat! Molly Wizenberg writes like a dream. She's funny. She has moving stories about family, friends and life that flow and are never forced. She has a wonderful blog, Orangette, which you'll want to bookmark. The recipes are terrific. The cover is pretty. Shoot, I'd almost say the price is perfect, I love this book so much. I'm working my way through the recipes, one by one, even the stewed prunes (with citrus and cinnamon, "sweet, winey and complex"); dishes like Slow-Roasted Tomato Pesto, Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde, Custard-Filled Cornbread. Here is that fabulous recipe for banana bread that will even please banana-bread haters.
Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips or a chopped chocolate bar
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not lowfat or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
In a small bowl, microwave the butter until just melted. (Take care to do this on medium power and in short bursts; if the heat is too high, butter will sometimes splatter or explode. Or, alternatively, put the butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in the preheated oven.) Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter and vanilla and stir to mix well. (The same fork works fine for this.) Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top.
Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.
Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip it out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing--unless you absolutely can't help yourself, in which case, dig in.--Marilyn Dahl