Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 6, 2009


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

News

E-Book Moves: B&N Uploads Fictionwise

Barnes & Noble has bought Fictionwise, the e-book website that includes eReader and eBookwise, for $15.7 million and will run it as a separate business headed by Steve and Scott Pendergrast, who founded it in 2000. B&N said that it plans "to use Fictionwise as part of its overall digital strategy, which includes the launch of an e-Bookstore later this year." The move greatly expands B&N's presence in e-books, challenges Amazon's run toward Kindle e-dominance and strengthens the position of non-exclusive e-book standards.

"We bought Fictionwise because we like how they've approached the digital and e-book markets," William Lynch Jr., president and CEO of Barnes&Noble.com, told the Wall Street Journal. "They have one of the most popular applications on the iPhone, and they really understand merchandising. They also have a lot of institutional knowledge about this space."

Fictionwise offers more than 60,000 titles and is adding 500 a week, Stephen Pendergrast told the paper. The most popular category is romance, which accounts for half of all sales. Fictionwise has sold as many as five million book titles. Pendergrast estimated total e-book sales in the U.S. last year at $100 million.

Several publishers told the New York Times they are happy about the purchase. Pat Schroeder, CEO of the AAP, said: "Nobody really likes a monoply."

In a piece yesterday on Teleread, Paul Biba quoted Scott Pendergrast as saying that B&N supports Fictionwise's philosophy of "platform neutrality and eReader everywhere." This could "be good news for the ePub standard, which will be the core format for a reinvented eReader."

In addition, he wrote, "Of all the major DRM systems, the one in Fictionwise's eReader software could well be among the gentlest, allowing you to copy a book to an unlimited number of your own devices--unlike systems from, say, Mobipocket. Fictionwise DRM uses encrypted credit card numbers as a way to discourage copying."

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And in what might be considered another part of the B&N-Amazon chess board, Amazon.com made a move by unveiling a service yesterday allowing customers to trade in used videogames for store credit on any Amazon offerings. This initiative is seen by many observers as a major threat to GameStop Corp., which was owned by B&N chairman Len Riggio and B&N before its IPO. He remains a director and chair of the executive committee.

Yesterday GameStop shares dropped 14%.
 


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


Notes: More Borders Layoffs; Powell's Green-Book Role

Two weeks after cutting 136 jobs at the corporate level (Shelf Awareness, February 19, 2009), Borders Group has laid off 742 people at its 516 Borders superstores and 385 Waldenbooks specialty retail outlets, amounting to less than 3% of the company's total workforce. The majority of the positions were just under the store general manager level--usually one or two positions that have included sales managers, inventory managers, training supervisors and merchandise supervisors. The company said it was "reset[ing] its superstore management structure to correspond to sales volume on a store-by-store basis."


In a statement, CEO Ron Marshall said, "Every retailer operating today must manage their business prudently, including staffing stores to maintain strong customer service levels while also making sure that payroll investments align with the reality of sales."

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As expected, general retail sales in February were generally disappointing, although Wal-Mart was a bright spot: sales at its stores open at least a year rose 5.1%. Same-store sales elsewhere ranged from drops of 1.6% at Kohl's, 3% at Costco and 4.1% at Target to falls of 15.4% at Nordstrom and 26% at Saks.

Because of Wal-Mart's size and performance, general retail overall had declines of 0.1% to 0.7%, according to several indices. Without Wal-Mart, general retail same-store sales fell about 4%.

"Flat is the new up," Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank Securities told the New York Times. "If you're only doing a zero percent increase, congratulations. You're a winner."

The Times added that while the numbers were bleak, "they were also slightly better than Wall Street was expecting, and a tentative indicator that economic deceleration may be slowing." Some, including Wal-Mart, credited lower gasoline prices with a boost in customer visits and spending. Still, no one is predicting an easy time in the coming months.

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As part of its role as official bookseller during the National League of Cities' Green Cities Conference next month, Powell's Books is creating an e-book page on its website from which attendees can purchase e-books, the Salem News reported.

Ken Rosenfeld, NLC program director for the conference, told the paper: "In providing this e-book option, we are offering our conference participants the 'greenest' way to access some of the best books available. We think it's important to make this conference as green as possible and Powell's is helping us do that. Not only does this e-book option provide an additional choice for conference attendees, but it reduces pollution and it saves trees."

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The New York Times has introduced three weekly bestseller lists for graphic novels. Categories are hardcover, softcover and manga. See the inaugural hot sellers here.

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The San Francisco Chronicle offered a mournful account of one of the last readings at Stacey's, which is closing later this month. The author who spoke on Wednesday, her ninth reading at Stacey's: Cara Black, who coincidentally is today's Book Brahmin, below.

"You know, people don't think of the Financial District as a neighborhood, but it is," Ingrid Nystrom, Stacey's marketing manager, told the paper. Nystrom, who has run 50-100 author events a year during the past 11 years, added, "It will be a real loss to the neighborhood. We've had some people crying."

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Congratulations to Tom Benton of Penguin, who has won Publishers Weekly's Rep of the Year Award. He will be honored at BEA and an article about him appears in PW's pre-BEA issue.

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You are what you pretend to read? A Guardian feature, "Our guilty secrets: the books we only say we've read," noted that in a recent poll, George Orwell's 1984 topped the list of the U.K.'s guilty reading secrets: "Asked if they had ever claimed to read a book when they had not, 65% of respondents said yes and 42% said they had falsely claimed to have read Orwell's classic in order to impress. This is followed by Tolstoy's War and Peace (31%), James Joyce's Ulysses (25%) and the Bible (24%)."

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The movie tie-in edition of Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup (originally published in 2005 as Q&A) cracked USA Today's top 150 bestseller list this week at 78. According to USA Today, "though 200,000 copies are in print, the paperback has not taken off as quickly as other awards-season titles, such as The Reader (No. 11) or Revolutionary Road (No. 27)." Scribner publisher Susan Moldow told the paper that sales have grown as "accolades (for the movie) poured in and the film's distribution increased."

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Very sad news: Andy Zuckerman, son of Applewood Books publisher Phil Zuckerman, died of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in Laos, where he taught English. He had graduated from Marlboro College last year with a B.A. in Asian Studies/Development Studies. He was also interested in ecology, sustainable agriculture, bio-medicinal chemistry, psychology, Eastern religion and foreign languages.

A memorial service will be held this Saturday, March 7, at noon at the Old Town Hall, 16 South Road, Bedford, Mass. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Andy Zuckerman Memorial Collection, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, Mass. 01730.

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A memorial service for Dr. Stanley Fisher, psychologist, author of Discovering the Power of Self-Hypnosis and husband of Newmarket Press president and publisher Esther Margolis, will be held Sunday, March 22, at noon in the Library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, 20 West 44th Street in New York City.

The family has established the Dr. Stanley Fisher Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Bronx High School of Science, from which he graduated in 1944, to be awarded to a student who displays a commitment in pursuing anti-smoking or cancer prevention research. Donation checks can be made out to the Alumni Association of the Bronx High School of Science, marked "For Dr. Stanley Fisher Memorial Scholarship Fund," and mailed to the school at Jerome Avenue Station, P.O. Box 145, Bronx, N.Y. 10468-0145.

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Sally Sampson Craft has been named the director of digital publishing, a new position, at InterVarsity Press. She was formerly senior e-commerce and communications manager and has worked at the company for more than 20 years in the marketing and sales and creative services departments.

In a statement, publisher Bob Fryling said the company "believes that a comprehensive digital publishing strategy is no longer a luxury but a necessity."

 


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


Image of the Day: Stand-Up Launch Party

On Tuesday, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, Calif., hosted a launch party for John Wenzel and his new book, Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny (Fulcrum), a look at the state of stand-up comedy. After Wenzel, an entertainment columnist for the Denver Post, presented and signed copies of the book, three comics featured in the book--(from l.) Maria Bamford, Ben Kronberg, and Andrew Orvedahl--did short stand-up sets.

 

 


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


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Picking Cotton on 60 Minutes on Sunday

Sunday night on 60 Minutes: Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, author of Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption (St. Martin's, $25.95, 9780312376536/0312376537). (This was supposed to air last Sunday but was bumped.)

 


Books & Authors

Awards: Story Prize

Tobias Wolff has won the $20,000 Story Prize for his collection Our Story Begins (Knopf).

Runners up were Jhumpa Lahiri for Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf) and Joe Meno for Demons in the Spring (Akashic Books). They both receive $5,000.

The judges commented about the winner: "The previously uncollected pieces by Wolff in this new collection show an increasingly severe insistence on the most telling and specific detail as the author creates entire worlds, entire life stories, out of eloquent molecules of narrative. The emotional impact of these lapidary stories is specific and powerful. It is this great sense of the human condition, combined with the close detailing of everyday life that makes Tobias Wolff such an exceptional writer."

 


Book Brahmin: Cara Black

Cara Black lives in San Francisco with her husband, an independent bookseller, and their son. Murder in the Latin Quarter, her ninth book in the Aimée Leduc Investigation series set in Paris, comes out this month from Soho Press. Caught at her desk littered with street maps of Paris, a student guide to the Sorbonne and a flakey brioche, she had this to say:

On your nightstand now:

2001 French and English Idioms by Barron's, indispensable for the perfect bon mot; Reasonable Doubt by Gianrico Carofiglio, featuring a Sicilian Perry Mason who cooks; The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly because I want to read it again; and an advance copy of The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, who writes Eastern Europe like no one else since Eric Ambler.
 
Favorite book when you were a child:

Robinson Crusoe. Hands down. My father would read it to us on Sunday afternoons, a chapter at a time. It wasn't just crawling on my father's lap, finding space between my brothers and peeking at the old illustrations, but we're talking ship-wreck, a desert island, Robinson and his man Friday, adventure, daring-do, self-sufficiency, restless natives, building a tree house . . . all the things kids love.

Your top five authors:

John le Carré--he just gets better--those multi-layered characters that live on the page, his breadth of knowledge about espionage and the human heart; Diane Ackerman, whose A History of the Senses opened my eyes, ears, nose, touch and taste to sensory details; Alan Furst, for his prose and atmosphere; Raymond Chandler, the noir master of language and metaphor; and Graham Greene, for foreign intrigue and the gold standard for moral dilemma.

Book you've faked reading:

Remembrance of Things Past
by Marcel Proust. Give me a break. I'd rather eat a madeleine instead. But that's between us, okay? I can fake it pretty well.
 
Book you're an evangelist for:

Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant. Exquisite, poignant, finely honed short stories that take your breath away. Why don't more people know about her?
 
Book you've bought for the cover:

Lock 14, an Inspector Maigret novel by Georges Simenon. What's not to love about this cover? A black-and-white Doisneau-like photo of '30s Paris with the dark Seine and barges backlit under the shadowed bridge. Mysterious.
 
Book that changed your life:  

All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read this in high school. Especially the scene where Paul shares a World War I shell hole with a dying French soldier and contemplates the brotherhood of man, our universal commonality and the utter uselessness of war.
 
Favorite line from a book:

"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun."--Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely.

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

The Lover by Marguerite Duras.

Writer--dead or alive--you would like to have all to yourself in a quiet corner of a bar:

Oscar Wilde. Over a bottle of absinthe somewhere in Saint Germain des Prés.

 


BEA Sets Speaker List: Authors, Illustrators and Narrators

The lineup of speakers and events for BEA, May 29-31, in New York, includes:
 
Friday Children's Book and Author Breakfast:
 
Meg Cabot, author of Allie Finkle's Rules For Girls Book 4: Stage Fright (Scholastic), Tomie dePaola, author of Strega Nona's Harvest (Penguin Young Readers Group), and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of Duck! Rabbit! and Little Oink (both Chronicle Books). Julie Andrews Edwards, author of Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), is Master of Ceremonies.

Saturday Book and Author Breakfast:
 
Tracy Kidder, author of Strength in What Remains (Random House), Jeannette Walls, author of Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel (Scribner), and Ben Mezrich, author of The Accidental Millionaires (Doubleday). Craig Ferguson, author of American on Purpose: A Memoir (HarperCollins), is Master of Ceremonies.
 
Saturday Book and Author Luncheon:
 
Pat Conroy, author of South of Broad (Doubleday), Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf), and Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Truly Motivates Us (Riverhead Books). Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It (Penguin Press), is Master of Ceremonies.
 
Saturday the Heard Word: BEA's Audiobook and Author Tea:
 
Kathie Lee Gifford, author of Just When I Thought I'd Dropped My Last Egg (Random House Audio), Lisa Scottoline, author of Look Again (Macmillan Audio), and Katherine Kellgren, narrator of Curse of the Blue Tattoo (Listen & Live Audio).

Sunday Book and Author Breakfast:
 
Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic (Knopf), Gail Collins, author of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1950 to the Present (Little, Brown), and Pete Dexter, author of Spooner (Grand Central Publishing). Joe Scarborough, author of Up from Republicanism: How Conservatives Can Take Back America (Crown Forum), is Master of Ceremonies.
 
Sunday Meet the Bestsellers Lunch:
 
Nicholas Sparks, author of The Last Song, and David Baldacci, author of an untitled novel to be published in November, both from Grand Central Publishing. Proverbial free lunch, but seating is limited. First come, first served. Includes a Q&A and signing of the authors' most recent books.

 



Book Review

Book Review: Life Sentences

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman (William Morrow & Company, $24.99 Hardcover, 9780061128899, March 2009)



Increasingly in these days of made-up memoir, actual fiction strains to show its hand, dropping plot clues the size of anvils on readers or splashing character motives and attributes on the page in flaming colors. Many contemporary writers (or perhaps their editors) seem afraid to make readers work--even a little--to understand the intricacies and vagaries of human nature, resulting in plots and characters that are spelled out to the last letter. But this has always been anathema to Laura Lippman, who once again ably demonstrates her mastery of nuance and subtlety in Life Sentences (a stand-alone novel), which has, appropriately enough, a bestselling memoirist, Cassandra Fallows, as its central character.

On tour for a novel (coolly received after two blockbuster memoirs), Fallows catches a news story about Calliope Jenkins, an old grade-school classmate who, decades earlier, spent seven years in jail for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her missing (and presumed dead) infant son. Intrigued, Fallows decides to follow the story and turn it into a new nonfiction book. In the process, she attempts to reconnect with three other former classmates with whom she had once been very close. At least, this is how Fallows remembers it. However, when she returns to her native Baltimore, Fallows discovers that her memories--the cornerstone of her success, credibility and identity--may all be rooted in untruths. An expert at building psychological suspense, Lippman mines Fallows's increasing confusion and doubt, leaving the question of what really happened open to a variety of interpretations. Included in those interpretations is a subtle but resonant meditation on race that Lippman threads through the story. Fallows was the sole white girl in her group of former classmates and she has built her personal history around her father's abandonment of her mother for an African-American woman he met during Baltimore's 1968 race riots.

Life Sentences features many characters in critical roles, and it is evidence of Lippman's great skill that none of them get short shrift, even while the major players carry the bulk of the narrative. She gets excellent mileage out of even brief sketches, creating complicated personalities with the simple details of a kitchen, a hairstyle or a trip to the local wine mart. Perhaps most impressive though, and the reason this book is so deeply satisfying, is Lippman's ability to illuminate the shades of grey that exist between the black and white of truth and fiction, guilt and innocence, memory and reality.--Debra Ginsberg

Shelf Talker: A subtle, smart and deeply satisfying stand-alone novel of psychological suspense from Laura Lippman, a writer who just keeps getting better.

 


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: 'Time to Open Up the Back Room a Bit'

Sometimes you just have to tell 'em what's what. Fred Powell of Main Street Books, Frostburg, Md., thinks Linda Ramsdell's note to her Galaxy Bookshop customers explaining how she's controlling inventory during the economic downturn "really summed up what I have been doing at work for the past two months and put that work into a one-paragraph explanation that I can use for both my customers and my staff."

Although Powell believes small bookstores have always had to focus upon inventory control and cash flow, "this has been a time of getting smarter, a time to really read each title on every shelf, a time to find and promote your strengths as a bookseller and a time to get your 'house in order.' Survival of the fittest never seemed more real to me than it does right now (Belated Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!)."

Even armed with this hard-earned knowledge, however, he suspects that his customers are not always fully aware of the challenges he faces: "They think that the books are always in the store (and paid for!), and all they have to do is browse and enjoy. I think it is time to open up the back room a bit and let the customers know how we operate our businesses. By educating our customers, we also educate ourselves."

When I ask Powell if he thinks such discussions might be easier now that so many customers face painful economic pressure in their own lives, he replies, "Are they prepared? No. Do many care? No. The customer just wants the store open and stocked. Should the customer care? Yes. I think we will need to have more closings of every kind of business before people start to notice. There is still too much comfort for the average person in today's world. It will take a few more failures and stock losses to get folks to notice what is happening in their own communities."

That said, he does see the potential for opening new lines of communication. "In my store, at least, there is always a sharing of stories," he says, adding that since he has shared many personal stories with his customers over the years, "I should be sharing the current bookstore story as well. My book group asked me in our last meeting if I would take some time in a future gathering and tell them how the book industry works. Surprised me that they were so interested, but I was complimented at the same time. I think they wanted to know where my store stood in all that they are reading about the much-publicized lay-offs and downsizings of the major publishers. Maybe there is a longing for the return of the pot-bellied stove and the peanut shells on the floor of the local merchants of days ago."

So how do you resist the temptation to opt for the stiff upper lip, even if the boat is taking on water? Fred recalls that his father, a small businessman, used to tell him that whenever people asked how business was, he should "always answer in a positive fashion--'Doing Great!'--even if the business was not doing great. He felt it was not in the business' best interest to let folks know that your business was suffering. I have used that model for my business as well, but have been thinking recently that the residents of my small town need to know all is not well in the book world and the economy in general and that their support is needed. If the money is getting tighter, then customers need to make informed purchasing decisions and they should know that their dollars are supporting folks right in their neighborhood."

During the high-flying, if illusory, economic thrill ride of the 1990s and early 2000s, indie booksellers were already struggling to stay in business and compete. Did our customers, especially those earning big money and watching their property values escalate, make assumptions about the bookselling world? Since indies had an involuntary head start on the challenging business climate, were we canaries in the coal mine?

"Hasn't that always been true of small business," Powell suggests. "We incubate the idea, grow it, have it taken away by corporations (who tire of it and drop it) while we keep the idea going in some form all along. As the economy rises (when?), many of the small businesses will still be there, doing what they have always done. There will be a new canary in a new cage hanging behind the cash register."

Is "Doing Great!" the wrong thing to say right now?--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

 


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