Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

Henry Holt & Company: Mihi Ever After (Mihi Ever After #1) by Tae Keller, illustrated by Geraldine Rodríguez

Berkley Books: River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer

Oxford University Press, USA: The World According to Proust by Joshua Landy

Chronicle Chroma: Bob Willoughby: A Cinematic Life by Bob Willoughby

Charlesbridge Publishing: Forever Cousins by Laurel Goodluck, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson

Tor Teen: The Luminaries by Susan Dennard


Notes: Thirteen Reasons Why's Long Shelf Life; Foote Bio

Today's New York Times offered an inquest into the YA debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, published by Penguin's Razorbill imprint, a story about a teenager's suicide that "has become a stealthy hit with surprising staying power."

Published in October 2007, the book is a transcription of audiotapes made by a 16-year-old girl before she commits suicide--interspersed with reactions by friends after her death. Asher, who has worked as a children's librarian and bookseller, said he was inspired to use the format after listening to an audio tour of an exhibition about King Tut in Las Vegas, Nev.

One reason for the book's popularity: a series of YouTube videos created as part of an ad campaign and featuring the voice of Olivia Thirlby, who played the best friend of the title character in Juno. While a cassette player rolls, Thirlby's voice reads the tapes made by the protagonist of Thirteen Reasons Why.

"Death and dying has always been a popular theme for kids," Josalyn Moran, v-p of children's books at Barnes & Noble, told the paper. "Kids like to read about situations that are worse than theirs and figure out that 'O.K., my life isn't so bad.' "

And Kris Vreeland, children's book buyer at Vroman's, Pasadena, Calif., said she had read many YA titles that are "pretty dark, but not something that was specifically that kind of format and never anything that really dealt with suicide from the perspective of the person who has committed suicide." Vroman's has sold more than 250 copies of Thirteen Reasons Why.


More on Horton Foote, playwright and screenwriter who died last Wednesday at 92:

On September 8, the Free Press is publishing Horton Foote: America's Storyteller by Wilborn Hampton, the New York Times theater critic who was a friend of Foote for more than 20 years.

Free Press called this "the first comprehensive biography" of Foote and one based on "the full cooperation of Mr. Foote as well as his close friends and family. Colorful and compulsively readable, it recounts Mr. Foote's rich life and extraordinary career, spanning much of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, ranging from small-town Texas to Broadway to Hollywood."

Hampton wrote the obituary for Foote in Thursday's New York Times.


For comic comment on the values of the book, click here.


Boing Boing recommended the blog Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves, whose the author "reviews children's books of yore that she digs up at thrift stores, library sales, and used bookstores. Even if you don't have little ones, the pages she posts have wonderful art."


A paperback edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which includes an illustrated card signed by J.K. Rowling, was sold for $19,120 by a Dallas auction house. The Associated Press (via USA Today) reported that the book was "one of only 200 copies from the first printing issued with illustrated wrappers by London publisher Bloomsbury." The winning bid came from a vintage comic book collector in Dubai.


Rob Weisbach, president and publisher of Rob Weisbach Books at Morrow, then v-p and editor-at-large at Simon & Schuster, then president and CEO of Miramax Books and president and CEO of the Weinstein Company's new book division, has formed Rob Weisbach Creative Management.

The company aims to remake the traditional literary agency as "a cross-training development company--one that will work with new and established talent on all aspects of career building. The company will help artists fully develop their creative potential, represent their work aggressively across all formats including film and television, train them for media and pursue national exposure on their behalf, and build an overall strategic plan for self-promotion, long-term financial stability and a sustained creative life in the arts."

Besides working for its primary clients, Rob Weisbach Creative Management will also offer services for artists who are otherwise represented, from editorial consultation and media training to marketing and publication plans. The company will also include satellite co-agents--a "virtual team of experts"--who will represent their own clients as well as provide their professional expertise in dramatic and foreign rights, publicity, editorial and online marketing.

Weisbach's first project has been the survival memoir Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad, which will be published here in June by Ecco and has been sold around the world.

Rob Weisbach Creative Management may be reached at 212-414-0743 or


Effective today, Jonathan Merkh has been named v-p and publisher of the Howard Books imprint at Simon & Schuster. He formerly worked at the William Morris Agency and earlier worked at Guideposts and Thomas Nelson, where he was senior v-p and publisher of the Nelson Books division.

In a statement, Mark Gompertz, executive v-p of the Touchstone Fireside division, said that Merkh is "well-known and highly regarded in both the CBA community and the wider world of publishing, with a substantive track record for publishing books that serve the Christian marketplace and have broad mainstream appeal. He is the right person to help us grow this area of our publishing, expanding upon the solid foundation built by John Howard and the rest of Howard Books staff."


Scribe Us: Our Members Be Unlimited: A Comic about Workers and Their Unions by Sam Wallman

Sign Language at FoxTale Book Shoppe

When a course in American Sign Language (ASL) begins tonight at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, Ga., one of the participants will be co-owner Ellen Ward. "The bookstore has a role in the community to be a center for dissemination of all types of communication, and this is an important one," said Ward.

The classes are taught by Terri Jackson, a FoxTale customer and a certified ASL instructor who was born deaf. When Jackson came into the store one day, Ward--whose 21-year-old daughter is deaf--knew enough sign language to be able to communicate with her. They then devised the idea for the eight-week program, which the store has offered several times over the last year.

The program costs $250 and has attracted a range of participants. A family learned to sign to be able to communicate with their two-year-old boy, who had a permanent tracheotomy and couldn't speak. A woman who was losing her hearing wanted to learn to sign, while another was adopting a deaf child. In addition, some people have been interested in it as a language," said Ward. ASL will soon be taught as a second language at schools in the Woodstock area.

The current ASL program at FoxTale was initially scheduled as a beginner course, but not enough people signed up. "Normally the price doesn't seem to make any difference," Ward said. "Terri is a certified instructor and so it's a higher level than taking a signing class somewhere like a recreation center. Right now people don't want to spend $25 on a hardcover, let alone $250 on a new class." Instead the program has been filled with advanced students already invested in learning ASL and looking to further their skills.

Along with teaching ASL, Jackson offers insight into the culture of the deaf community, such as ways to keep the hearing impaired from feeling excluded in social settings. At the end of each session, she invites deaf people from the community to attend and sign with class members. "It's a beautiful language and one that has so much history and culture built into it," said Ward. "It opens up whole new worlds when you understand it."--Shannon McKenna Schmidt


Flyaway Books: The Coat by Séverine Vidal, illustrated by Louis Thomas

Media and Movies

Media Heat: John Cheever's Library of America Editor

Today on the Diane Rehm Show: Blake Bailey, editor of two new Library of America editions of John Cheever's work, John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings ($35, 9781598530346/1598530348) and John Cheever: Complete Novels ($35, 9781598530353/1598530356).


Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Dave Zinczenko, author of Eat This Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution (Rodale, $19.95, 9781605298382/1605298387).


Tomorrow morning on Morning Edition: Zoe Heller, author of The Believers (Harper, $25.99, 9780061430206/006143020X).


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Howard Fineman, author of The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country (Random House, $15, 9780812976359/0812976355).



PNBA Holiday Catalog 2022

Movies: Angels & Demons Scene on Da Vinci Code DVD

Director Ron Howard introduces a five-minute scene from the upcoming film adaptation of Angels & Demons (making its debut May 15) on the Blu-ray version of The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut, which will be released April 28. Ten dollars in "movie cash towards Angels & Demons theatrical tickets" will also be included with the DVD, according to Variety.


Books & Authors

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

New titles appearing next Tuesday, March 17:

Never Give Up!: Relentless Determination to Overcome Life's Challenges
by Joyce Meyer (Grand Central, $21.99, 9780446580359/044658035X) profiles nearly 50 people, including the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge and America's first female pilot, who overcame challenges.

The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America
by Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young (Harper, $26.99, 9780061582332/0061582336) explores the negative behavior of celebrities and their impact on the public, especially young people.

Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy
by Leslie H. Gelb (Harper, $27.99, 9780061714542/0061714542) chronicles the weakening of foreign policy by several administrations and offers suggestions for revitalizing it.

The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Story of an Iraqi General and His Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny by Wendell Steavenson (Collins, $24.99, 9780061721786/0061721786) tells the story of an Iraqi General who made difficult choices under Saddam Hussein.


Book Review

Mandahla: Before I Forget

Before I Forget by Leonard, Jr. Pitts (Agate Bolden, $16.00 Paperback, 9781932841435, March 2009)

Mo Johnson was one of the most popular soul stars of the '70s and now lives a life of faded, albeit moneyed, glory, sitting in a few times a month with a band in a Baltimore bar; that is, until he forgets where he's going one night. His lapse leads to a doctor's appointment and a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's at age 49. "Life has turned itself sideways and Mo was scrabbling against a wall that just a second ago had been a floor, looking for a handhold where there was none." Then he is told his disease is genetic. He's left a ticking bomb in his son, Trey, and in his grandson; the knowledge that Trey might also come to know how it feels to have his life erased--"To walk on sand and leave no footprint"--leaves him stunned and sorrowful.

Five days after Mo learned that he was dying, Trey and two others rob a convenience store. It goes bad in so many ways: the owner is killed, and Trey drops his wallet at the scene. Shortly after that, Mo gets a call from his father's friend Cooley, who tells him his father, Jack, is dying of prostate cancer and wants to see his son. Mo refuses. It had been a lifetime since he'd seen his father, whom he blames for his mother's death. Mo has decided to kill himself. "Once he had been king of the mountain. Now he was a dying man writing a suicide note while waiting for his only child to be released from jail."

Mo posts bail for Trey and drives to Los Angeles to see his father, taking Trey with him. Jack was screwed up as a father, as was Mo, and now Trey, also a father, is the same. Mo thinks he might somehow be able to save his son. As his mind slips further away and he runs out of time, he thinks about wasted opportunities, the past he can't change and wonders if Trey will forgive him after he's gone. But he still has something to give his son when he says, "Be a better man than I was, Trey."

Leonard Pitts, Jr., has written a powerful novel about regrets, second chances, forgiveness and responsibility. Woven into Mo and Trey's lives are rich stories about people like Tash, Trey's mother, or the tragic Dog, torn between hope for his unborn daughter and a request from his mother and brother that could destroy him. Mo puts off mentioning his illness--one more layer in three generations of debilitating secrets--while he ponders the value of truth; was it "really worth this darkness now settling into Trey's eyes?" Mo's grief and anger, his struggles with his son and his father, combine with love in a crucible of hope and transformation. This is a beautiful, tragic and riveting work.--Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: A compelling, moving novel about fathers and sons and what it means to be a man.


Deeper Understanding

Conversation with Peter Osnos: Our 'Bright' Digital Future

While recognizing that "at the moment we're dealing with a cataclysm," Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs, said that he sees "a bright future" for the book world. Because of changes in technology that are occurring rapidly, a model for book publishing is developing that will make it possible for "every reader to have the opportunity to choose how they want to access a book when they want."

This multimedia delivery model will be based on e-books, POD books and downloadable audio in addition to the traditional book and will be a major improvement for publishers, whose most significant problem now is inventory management, Osnos continued. (Luckily in contrast to other media branches like magazines and newspapers, the book world does not have to contend with advertising and circulation issues. The only other "toxic asset" for some publishers is huge advances.) "We publishers print 10 copies of a book to sell six," Osnos said. In a new world, "If we print 10 to sell eight, two of which are digital, that would change the economics of our business."

Altering the current model is critical because the gradual increase in returns on front list to a range in some cases of 40%-50% is not sustainable, he said. And readers' preferences concerning how they read are changing.

Already the market is moving into digital territory, as evidenced by the growth of Kindles, iPods, iPhones and more. "The way people are adapting to digital delivery is enormously important and in its own way enormously positive," Osnos said.

He is concerned, however, about the role of booksellers, who "still have not yet accepted that digital delivery is a good thing and that it can be part of what they do," he said. "There isn't any reason any bookseller cannot completely embrace digital delivery." He added that he had heard the reasons many booksellers give for remaining focused on traditional books--lack of time, energy and resources--and the feeling that e-books, POD and downloadable audio are marginal. "But they're not marginal," he stated emphatically.

Oddly many booksellers who have ABA E-commerce Solution (formerly sites are unaware that they already have the capability to sell e-books. "They think of the e-book as some sort of adversary, but it's just a commodity," he continued.

Osnos envisions a bricks-and-mortar bookstore that will allow customers to buy books any way they want them, whether--once again--it's the traditional book, a POD version, an e-book or audio. In this kind of bookstore, booksellers won't turn some customers away or tell them to come back to pick up a book later. "The creators and providers of content have to recognize that the consumer comes in different flavors and that we need to hold onto those consumers."

Osnos said he will regret it deeply if "something happens around booksellers and doesn't include them because booksellers are indispensable to their communities," particularly in the "added value" they offer, including readings, service and a sense of place where people feel comfortable.

He urged people in the industry "to step back and think of themselves as civilians and appreciate the extent to which we always look for convenience and quality. It doesn't mean that 100% of people will read online and that the printed book is doomed. It means that there will be choices and options, and it's essential that publishers and booksellers be a part of that."

He continued: "No one who goes to independent bookstores or superstores wants to leave without a major purchase. The frustrations of not getting what you want are vast." He called it a "natural relationship" for bookstores to be able to offer books in a range of formats. "Movie theaters were not destroyed by videos in the home. They were changed, but not destroyed. People are always adapting to change." Bookstores--"the heart and soul of our world"--should be a showroom, a place with an infinite warehouse on hand.

In our digital era, timing is key, Osnos said. "People increasingly expect entertainment and information to be delivered on demand. We all need to recognize that this is not a threat. It's an opportunity."

In the case of a publisher, "if I get a great review somewhere, I have 24 hours to capture that customer before they read the next great review." In the same way, Osnos said, booksellers need to close the sale quickly. He said he doesn't understand the reluctance of booksellers to charge for special orders until customers pick up the ordered books. "Amazon has created a huge business out of taking people's credit cards even though they have to wait," he said.

While change is "moving very quickly, you don't know who the dominant player will be," he stated. Amazon's Kindle has made "great inroads. I know a lot of people who have one and use it principally for travel." Recently Osnos and his wife traveled to Vietnam, and his wife read five books on a Kindle during the trip.

Osnos is proud of many aspects of the Caravan Project, which he founded in 2006 (Shelf Awareness, April 3, 2006) to help try to apply some of his multimedia platform ideas to university presses and other publishers of serious work. For one, during that period, the Caravan Project helped 12 publishers create 130 audio versions of their books, for an average cost of $3,000 each (which was 50%-70% less than he anticipated). "These were publishers who hadn't done audios before, and sales they didn't have," he said.

Ultimately traditional booksellers were not as involved in the Caravan Project as expected. "The availability of the Caravan Project books is significant and being sold but not generally through traditional bricks-and-mortar stores," Osnos said. "A lot more e-books are being sold through newer, digitally based retailers than bricks-and-mortar stores."

The current funding cycle for the Caravan Project is over in June, and Osnos hopes to establish it as "a nonprofit consultancy that would provide the same kind of services we've been doing for publishers, hopefully with a reasonable fee structure." He added that "the emphasis has been on university presses, but everything we've learned is available to anyone who asks."--John Mutter


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