Shelf Awareness for Monday, March 16, 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


March Madness: Tip-Off to More Great Hoop Reads

The battle of the basketball books continues. While there have been no stunning upsets in what is becoming a large playoff field, many great performances are being recalled:

"Sorry folks, I liked the Connie Hawkins book a lot, but the best basketball book ever written was done by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, who wrote Forty-Eight Minutes years ago for Macmillan publishing (I was their rep back then). It was a fascinating breakdown, minute by minute, of what turned out to be an epic game between the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was co-written, if I remember correctly, by Terry Pluto. Also, let's not forget one of the best-selling sports books of all time, A Season on the Brink by then debut author John Feinstein, who covered the 1985-1986 basketball season of Bobby Knight at Indiana University. I am still the proud owner of my signed copy, from when I accompanied Mr. Feinstein at a book signing in Springfield, Mass. (home to the Basketball Hall of Fame), when all of 12 people showed up at his signing at a downtown bookstore.  He has since gone on to a bit more fame."--John Muse, sales director, UFSO Eastern Region, S&S.

"If the shot clock hasn't expired yet, I'd like to throw in Forty-Eight Minutes by Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto, who were newspaper beat writers in 1987 covering the Celtics and Cavs respectively. As the title suggests, they spend the whole book on one game between Boston and Cleveland in 1987, and thus get into the X's and O's like nobody else. Both can consistently hit the 15-footer as far as writing chops go, but more importantly they're not that interested (the way Halberstam was) in what it all might mean in addition to basketball. Strictly focused on the game. So while I'd still give the edge to Breaks of the Game as best ever about basketball culture, I'd go with Ryan and Pluto as the best on basketball qua basketball. The McPhee, while it might be one of the greatest long essays ever--regardless of subject--comes up short as a basketball book for being a) only about Bill Bradley and b) too short. No disrespect to Dollar Bill or McPhee. Have never read Foul!, but it's on my list now. Thanks for the feature, very entertaining."--Pete LeBar, Allegheny College Bookstore, Meadville, Pa.

"I am enjoying your basketball book showdown. As we Huskies are in it to win it this year, I thought I'd add my contribution to the debate. What about all three of John Feinstein's books on college ball . . . Last Dance, Last Amateurs and A March to Madness? And his titles for kids aren't bad either. Go Dawgs!"--Kathy Wright, sports books buyer (and other books buyer, too), University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

"I, too, am a great fan of Foul! since its publication. It was quite a touchstone book especially for us New York City kids; Connie Hawkins was and remains a legend. The high school I attended happened to have been undefeated going into the final four of the PSAL championships in 1960, and we played in the semifinals against an also-undefeated team from Christopher Columbus. They beat us. Later, while a blizzard was whirling outside the (Old) Garden, a second game was played, possibly the best high school basketball game ever, between Hawkins' Boys High team and a Wingate High team led by the later ABA star and successful politician, the late Roger Brown. Either could have played in the NBA right away, as some high schoolers have done since. Boys won the game, and Columbus slowed down the final game against them, but Boys prevailed 21-15. I would like to refer your readers' attention to a largely unpublicized and unremembered book by Gerald Duff, called Indian Giver, about a Native American hoopster recruited by an Indiana University-like basketball power. The young man applies precepts of Native American culture to basketball, visualizing his arrow (as in bow and) arcing over the front rim. Duff is sure-footed about  his basketball, and equally so about his grasp of native culture. I enjoyed the book with great pleasure, and recommend it highly.--Mark Levine

"All the recently mentioned contenders for the crown of best basketball book ever are worthy, but since March Madness was the inspiration for this round-up, I'd like to add to the mix a book that captures, in part, the broken-glass-and-cracked-concrete-strewn road to the college game: Rick Telander's Heaven Is a Playground. First published in the 1970s and updated and re-released several times since, it tells the story of inner-city kids in New York for whom basketball holds out the promise of a way out of an urban nightmare. Telander's account is even-handed, open-eyed and deeply affecting, giving an asphalt-level view of talented ballers, street hustlers and life on the streets of 1970s Brooklyn (where Telander lived while he wrote the book). Sports Illustrated named it one the best 100 sports books ever published; it prefigures the Oscar-winning documentary Hoop Dreams, and anyone who's read it will remember cheering its ragamuffin
cast of basketball hopefuls as they turn to the game of basketball as a way to shrug off the shackles of poverty, a failing public education system and an urban landscape of litter, crime and hopelessness."--Nathaniel Marunas, associate publisher, Black Dog & Leventhal.

In my view, nothing beats Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander, a former sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times and, later, for Sports Illustrated. Chronicling a summer of basketball on a court in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood in 1974, Rick Telander--probably the only white person walking around the area that wasn't a cop or a basketball scout--takes what should've been a magazine article and expands it into a book filled with the day-to-day details of the lives of these young men who spend their whole day playing basketball. I wouldn't be surprised if this book was an influence to the people who did that great documentary, Hoop Dreams, because what Telander does is let the people--their voices, ideas, dreams and disappointments--fill his reporter's notebook rather than inserting his own commentary. Naturally, there are wonderful scenes of basketball--he is introduced to the great young talent of Albert King, eventual NBA player and younger brother of Bernard and to James 'Fly' Williams, perhaps one of the greatest talent to ever played the game--but the everyday chatter of the Subway Stars, the name of the team whose members become Rick's friends, is what kept me turning the pages."--Edward Ash-Milby, buyer, Barnes & Noble.


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


Notes: Cochran Leaves BAM; Shaman Drum Coalition Formed

Sandra B. Cochran has resigned as president, CEO and director of Books-A-Million and is becoming executive v-p and CFO of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. She remains a board member of American Promotional Events, an Anderson family company.

BAM chairman Clyde B. Anderson is adding the title of CEO. In a statement, he commented, "During her years with Books-A-Million, Sandy has been a valued partner and has worked tirelessly to help our company grow and prosper."


At Borders Group's annual meeting, to be held May 21 in Ypsilanti, Mich., the company may seek approval of measure to do a reverse stock split if that's necessary to avoid being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange. Under a reverse stock split, the company's shares, currently trading at 49 cents per share, would be combined so that, for example, three current shares would become one new share, worth $1.47. Under normal NYSE rules, companies may not continue to be listed if their share prices remain under $1 for specified periods. Because of the current economic crisis, however, that rule has been bent somewhat.


A coalition has been formed to "save Ann Arbor literary institution Shaman Drum Bookshop," the Ann Arbor News reported. University of Michigan professor Julie Ellison distributed a letter last Friday explaining that the newly-formed group "envisions turning the store into a nonprofit 'humanities commons,' possibly linked in some way to U-M through a campus/community alliance."

Last month, Shaman Drum owner Karl Pohrt said he might have to close due to a sharp drop in textbook sales and unexpected government delays regarding an application for nonprofit status under the name Great Lakes Literary Arts Center (Shelf Awareness, February 9, 2009).

The Shaman Drum coalition has made some initial suggestions, including:

  • The U-M Institute for the Humanities could make space available for Great Lakes Literary Arts Center classes.
  • U-M could change its textbook policy to include a statement on the benefits of buying books locally.
  • Individuals could buy shares or memberships in the Great Lakes Literary Association to support the store.
  • Shaman Drum could become a site for teaching for U-M.
  • Students and faculty in the U-M's Nonprofit and Public Management Center and the School of Information could work with Shaman Drum to develop a new business model and write grants to support it.

By Friday afternoon, "about 40 people had signed up to support the coalition," including two former Poet Laureates, Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky.

"I hope what comes out of this is an economic model and a community learning model,'' Ellison said.

Pohrt added, "What I am interested in is what the new model for bookshops will look like. This is an opportunity to try and invent it. And it's not a lone ranger thing. This is collaborative.''


ABA's IndieBound program has been honored as one of the 2009 ReBrand 100 winning brands.


Scam Alert revisited: Pat Daly, co-owner of Books & Crannies, Middleburg, Va., informed us that the Paul Jackson Institute ordering scam (Shelf Awareness, March 13, 2008) was attempted recently at her shop as well. "We tried to get address verification on the VISA card," she said. "When we could not confirm the billing address on the card with our merchant services rep, we contacted PNC Bank, who advised us not to run the transaction. Thanks for printing this warning in Shelf Awareness. It confirmed our conclusion that the transaction was a scam."


"The people who like my books enjoy what they're collecting. They're looking for a good book they haven't seen before, at a reasonable price," said Tommy Savage, owner of Thomas Savage Bookseller, Baton Rouge, La., in an interview with the Advocate. Savage opened his used, rare and out-of-print bookshop eight months ago, but has been in the business for two decades, previously owning bookstores in Quito, Ecuador, and St. Francisville, La.


Vox Pop bookstore and café, Brooklyn, N.Y., described by the New York Times as "a beacon of change" for Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park, is three months behind on its rent, facing $29,000 in unpaid fines, and in danger of closing.

"We’re in trouble," said Debi Ryan, who was hired by the store's 51 shareholders "in December to straighten things out has never been paid."


Despite, or perhaps because of, the recession, Europeans are buying more books, according to the Associated Press (via the New York Times), which reported that the "resilience has been particularly evident in Continental Europe. After a dip in the fall, the number of books sold in France rose 2% in December from a year earlier and 2.4% in January."


Obituary note: James Purdy, whose novels included Malcolm and The Nephew, died last Friday. He was 94. In its obituary, the New York Times described Purdy as a writer "whose dark, often savagely comic fiction evoked a psychic American landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation."


Time Out New York trailed John Wray as he read through a bullhorn from his novel, Lowboy (set, as well as partly written in, the subway system), on the Brooklyn-bound L train in New York.


Le livre et le sang. French teenagers are devouring Emily Brontë. The Times reported that interest in Wuthering Heights (Les Hauts de Hurlevent) has spiked thanks to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight vampire series: "References to Wuthering Heights abound in Eclipse, the third of the four-book series, and Belle Swan, the heroine, emerges as a Brontë fan. The upshot in France is that the 13 to 16-year-old girls who form Meyer's core readership have been keen to find out more about Brontë and her work."


Congratulations to our former colleague Kevin Howell, bookselling and audiobook review editor at Publishers Weekly, who has become associate marketing manager for Tarcher/Penguin. In a nice twist, he reports to Brianna Yamashita, another PW alum.

Kevin noted that when he moved to New York City in 1997 after working at Little Professor in Michigan and was hired by PW, he was also interviewing for marketing jobs at publishing houses. "Now 11 years later, I end up with a marketing job, and at a publishing house I really respect. I feel fortunate to be here, especially with this economy and so many talented people in publishing being out of work. Amazingly I was only out of work for a month . . . in fact, I got hired before I got my first unemployment check!"


Congratulations, too, to Kelly Amabile, who is working part-time both as events coordinator and bookseller at WORD bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., and for Reading Enterprises, which manages the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. Through May, she will provide part-time events support at Book Culture in Manhattan, where she was formerly events and marketing manager. She continues to serve as facilitator for the Independent Booksellers of New York City. She may be reached at


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

January Bookstore Sales Inch Up

During January, bookstore sales were $2.286 billion, up $1 million over January 2008, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. This marked the first gain for bookstore sales in four months.

The slight gain was all the more noteworthy because total retail sales in January dropped 9.8% to $281,464 billion compared to the same period a year ago.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales.


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

Cool Idea of the Day: March Madness Charity Book Tournament

Cool idea of the day. The King's English Bookshop and Redirect Community, both in Salt Lake City, Utah, are teaming up again to hold the second annual March Madness Charity Book Reading Tournament, which will benefit children's literacy. Last year's tournament raised nearly $10,000 for local children's literacy programs.

In a format that mirrors the NCAA Hoops Sweet Sixteen, works of fiction are matched against one another and read by a "judge" (King's English booksellers, local authors and community leaders), who then advances one "winning" title to the next round.

Individuals and organizations interested in following the tournament and donating to Book Wagon may "wager" a donation by choosing one book as the tournament winner. If the book pick is eliminated in an early round, groups may pick another favorite and place another bet.

Betting is now open, and donations are being taken by the King's English Bookshop and on the tournament website. All participants who meet the minimum wagering requirement of $20 will be eligible for prizes.

This year's Reading Tournament beneficiary is Book Wagon, run through the Housing Authority of Sale Lake County, which delivers donated books to children who otherwise likely would not own books.

For more information, go to or call Brian Seethaler of Redirect Community at 801-557-3537 or Jenn Northington of the King's English at 801-484-9100.


In Memoriam: Jean Srnecz

Beloved and respected Jean Srnecz, a 34-year veteran of Baker & Taylor and the highest-ranking woman at the wholesaler, was remembered and celebrated by more than 250 friends, family, publishing executives and her B&T "family" this past Saturday in Warren, N.J.  Participants laughed and cried at poignant and occasionally outrageous recollections of her personality and career.

As Josh Marwell, a Harper sales executive, noted, Srnecz was one of the few people whom most within Harper and publishing recognized by her first name.

The service for Srnecz, who died February 12 in the commuter plane crash near Buffalo, N.Y., was opened and closed by B&T executive David Cully, a relatively recent arrival at B&T. He called Jean both a colleague and a valued friend. Noting that her name tag remained on her door at work, he said he felt that she "spoke daily" to him. Cully was also the butt of a few gentle jokes, some made by himself, which noted his ability to agitate and foment change.

Patricia Bostelman, a Barnes & Noble v-p and former colleague of Jean, remarked that she and Jean spoken often about the industry and "their training of David," a former B&N executive.

Remembrances by Jean's fiancée, Paul Jonmaire, a former high school classmate from Strykersville, N.Y.; her daughter, Kristen, now a B&T collection development specialist; and her sister Marilyn Marzoff reminded the audience of Jean's dairy farm background, her 10 brothers and sisters--the result of a blended family--her deep commitment to scholarship and her planned retirement this summer.

A former high school exchange student in Iceland, Jean went on to earn two master's degrees. For those meeting her daughter Kristen for the first time, it was impossible not to be struck by her uncanny resemblance to her mom, especially her wry smile and warm, accepting manner.

B&T has established the Jean Srnecz Memorial Scholarship Fund in Jean's honor "to be awarded annually to dependents of active Baker & Taylor employees" who are entering a four-year college.

For many of us, one of the most memorable moments was an impromptu recollection by David Hogue, Jean's friend and 20-year B&T colleague. "We spent more time together than most marrieds," he said.

Hogue recounted one of his first visits with the legendary Little, Brown sales rep Sandor Szatmari, which Jean blithely interrupted and commandeered. As the normally eloquent and loquacious Szatmari struggled to keep up his presentation of the list, she deftly took him through the standard B&T hurdles: "You really need to be free freight. . . . You need to advertise with us a lot more. . . . This jacket sucks. . . . No one is going to want this one." In a moment she left, as Hogue noted, then as now, "too soon."--Chris Kerr


Media and Movies

Media Heat: The Graveyard Book

This morning on the Today Show: General Richard Myers, author of Eyes on the Horizon: Serving on the Front Lines of National Security (Threshold Editions, $27, 9781416560128/1416560122). He will also appear today on Fox's Sean Hannity Show, tonight on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and tomorrow on Charlie Rose.


Today on the View: Jean Chatzky, author of The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even The Toughest Times (Crown Business, $24.95, 9780307407139/0307407136).


Today on the Diane Rehm Show: Steve Lopez, author of The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music (Berkley, $15, 9780425226001/042522600X).


Tonight on Charlie Rose: Peter Singer, author of The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (Random House, $22, 9781400067107/1400067103).

Also on Charlie Rose: Gwen Ifill, author of The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (Doubleday, $24.95, 9780385525015/038552501X).


Tonight on the Colbert Report: Neil Gaiman, author of The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins, $17.99, 9780060530921/0060530928).


Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Franz Wisner, author of How the World Makes Love: . . . And What It Taught a Jilted Groom (St. Martin's, $24.95, 9780312340834/0312340834).

Also on Today: Drew Pinsky, author of The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America (Harper, $26.99, 9780061582332/0061582336). He also appears on the View today.


Tomorrow on the Diane Rehm Show: Leslie H. Gelb, author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (Harper, $27.99, 9780061714542/0061714542).


Tomorrow on Oprah: Montel Williams, author of Living Well Emotionally: Break Through to a Life of Happiness (NAL, $24.95, 9780451226648/045122664X).


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (Doubleday, $27.50, 9780385513531/0385513534).


Books & Authors

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

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


Doghead: A Novel by Morten Ramsland (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95, 9780312376543/0312376545). "This international bestseller is a rollicking, surreal family saga of three generations of a Norwegian family, complete with humor and heartbreak. Ramsland is a Danish Richard Russo!"--Carol Schneck, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, Mich.

Ten Degrees of Reckoning: The True Story of a Family's Love and the Will to Survive by Hester Rumberg (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, $24.95, 9780399155352/039915535X). "This gripping account of tragedy at sea is a superb tale of personal tragedy and triumph beautifully told. Once started, you won't put this one down."--Gary Colliver, Windows on the World--Books & Art, Mariposa, Calif.


All That I Have by Castle Freeman, Jr. (Steerforth, $13.95, 9781586421519/1586421514). "Castle Freeman, Jr.'s latest thriller takes us back to the deep woods of Vermont, where law is a complicated and subtle thing. Sheriff Wing is a sensitive, thinking man, preoccupied with the differences between the work of the policeman and that of the sheriff. When real criminals come to his county his slow motion, low-key methods of protecting his community are put to a serious test. A real treat for readers."--Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City, Iowa

For ages 9-12

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $19.99, 9780545055871/0545055873). "Tales From Outer Suburbia is a story told in vignettes expressed in artistic renderings and text, which capture the experiences and stories heard, but not quite fully understood, of the impressionistic years of childhood. Not solely a picture book, nor just a graphic book or fictional tale, it's, rather, all of these combined--perfect to share with young and old alike."--Jack Blanchard, Fairy Godmother, Washington, D.C.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Book Review: Cafe Society

During the Great Depression, a show salesman from Trenton, N.J., with a love of political cabaret has a vision: to establish a place for young black and white artists to perform together before an integrated audience that thrills to their budding genius. With an eye for new talent, marketing savvy and taste, the salesman's timing is perfect, and he becomes a saloon impresario elevating sublime jazz singers to stardom. Not even thieving bartenders can stop him. Could you imagine a more wonderful scenario for a movie spiced with knockout musical cameos?

Barney Josephson's salty, wide-ranging and charming memoir shows that he lived every minute of that scenario after he opened Cafe Society in 1938 in New York's Greenwich Village. The artsy bohemian basement he created with the help of leading graphic artists and illustrators was unique in the city; and the fresh talent he showcased was stellar. The combination made good copy, and Josephson was the beneficiary of what every new club prays for: a deluge of favorable publicity.

Josephson was a firm believer in the art of presentation. He took his stars to Bergdorf-Goodman to shop; when the staff, seeing an older white man buying clothes for gorgeous black women, "would come out with their leftover gowns from four years ago, [and he would say] 'Don't bring me any of those postmortems, I want now.'" He knew about "hot."

The lineup of talent he discovered and presented (Billie Holiday, Jack Gilford, Hazel Scott, Lena Horne, Zero Mostel and Josh White, among others) is so astonishingly hot that it makes you want to rush into the street and flag down a time-traveling taxi to take you to either the venue in Greenwich Village or its larger satellite Cafe Society Uptown.

For all the glory, there were many ugly moments--racism was rampant and anti-Semitism was everywhere. Not every headliner was a hit, either. Josephson no sooner hired Carol Channing than he had to fire her (he didn't like her material); he offered a young Sarah Vaughan her first solo gig, only to find that his audience didn't connect with her early style. Audience resistance, though, was nothing compared to the red-baiting and blacklisting that accompanied the House Un-American Activities Committee after World War II.

Like so many others, Josephson found himself smeared by guilt-by-association (his brother Leon refused to testify at HUAC hearings). "One moment I'm the darling of the press, the next I'm Mr. Anathema," he writes about the drying up of press coverage for his clubs. When he had to close them in 1947 and 1949, a great era in jazz, nightlife and advances for black entertainers came to a sad end. But Josephson was not a man to collapse in a heap, and other successful adventures--musical, culinary and political--lay ahead.--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: The reminiscences (and captivating photographs) in Cafe Society testify to the key place Barney Josephson occupies in our cultural history and lend this memoir remarkable depth and charm.


Powered by: Xtenit