Shelf Awareness for Friday, August 29, 2014
Happy Labor Day!
Because of the Labor Day holiday, this is our last issue until Tuesday, September 2. Enjoy your weekend!
BAM Second Quarter: Sales Slip, Net Loss Narrows
In the second quarter ended August 2, revenue at Books-A-Million slipped 0.5%, to $108.3 million, and the net loss was $3 million, compared to a net loss of $9.1 million in the same period a year earlier. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 0.1%.
BAM CEO and president Terrance G. Finley said that "the continued improvement in our core book business was a key driver of our performance. The teen and children's book business was particularly strong, led by the positive impact of media, particularly movie related tie-ins such as John Green's Fault in Our Stars, and Disney's Frozen. In addition we had a broad group of merchandise categories showing stronger results for the quarter. These included bargain books, general merchandise including gifts and toys, media, and our cafes. As for our 2nd and Charles buy-sell-trade stores, we opened our 20th location in Charlotte, N.C. Lastly, in our real estate segment, we added our fourth shopping center located in Jacksonville, Fla., and have made notable development progress at our Gardendale, Ala., center."
Japanese Publishers Protest Amazon's Negotiating Tactics
A group of Japanese publishers has "lashed out at Amazon's new book sale rules," AFP (via Channel NewsAsia) reported, noting that the "Tokyo-based publishers said Amazon recently unveiled a four-point system that rates them based on the size of the commission they pay for selling books on the U.S. company's vast website, among other criteria. Amazon then pushes hardest to promote books from publishers who agreed to the most favorable contract terms, which directly impacts how a book sells."
Amazon's Japanese division responded that the issue was a private one between the company and publishers: "We decline to comment on this issue as it is linked to contracts."
A publishing source told AFP that many publishers "are in talks with Amazon to renew their two-year contracts, but this time they're facing heavy demands from the company, which has grown rapidly here. Some smaller publishers are facing demands to accept a surge in commission fees... or see their contract terminated. If this kind of practice continues, small Japanese publishers who have created a diverse publishing culture here will be forced to go bankrupt."
Magic Tree Bookstore Receives Honor, Seeking Buyer
The Magic Tree Bookstore, Oak Park, Ill., was recently honored with a proclamation from the community commending owners Rose Joseph and Iris Yipp "for hosting children's authors and illustrators on the premises and at local schools and other meeting places, and introducing children to a lifelong love of reading," Bookselling This Week reported.
"The bookstore has collaborated with other local businesses to promote books and visits to nearby businesses through events such as Find Waldo Local, helping to spread the message to shop locally while providing a literary-based family activity," the proclamation stated.
In June, Yipp and Joseph announced plans to retire after 30 years in business. The shop is now up for sale and they "hope to leave after this holiday season comes to an end," BTW noted, adding that several people "have come forward with an interest in buying Magic Tree, but no deal has been made as yet."
"I'm grateful for all the support we've had from the community," Yipp said. "When people read in the paper that we were selling, many came in to ask if everything was okay. They love the bookstore."
Aussie Libraries Testing 'Buy It Now' Buttons
The Australian Library and Information Association, Australian Booksellers Association and Public Library Services South Australia announced plans for a "proof of concept trial" in coming months for "buy it now" buttons in library catalogues, Books+Publishing reported. If the trial is successful, a national rollout is planned for 2015-16.
In a statement, the ALIA explained: "If a library user finds that the book they want to borrow is on a wait list, or they come across a book they want to own on the library catalogue, they can click on 'buy it now' and they will be given options to buy the print or e-book from a choice of physical and online Australian retailers with price and availability information."
ALIA and the ABA have met with "a range of interested parties, including representatives of Boomerang Books, Dillons Norwood Bookshop, ALS Library Services and the three partners," and "will be talking to the Australian Publishers Association, e-lending software providers, library management systems vendors, POS providers and their members."
"We hope that the 'buy it now' button will deliver real benefits to users and revenue to authors, publishers, booksellers and libraries,' said ALIA CEO Sue McKerracher.
Aldi Chain Bans Roald Dahl Book in Australia
The Aldi supermarket chain in Australia removed the Roald Dahl classic Revolting Rhymes, first published in 1982, from its shelves "after complaints from customers about the use of the word 'slut' " in his comical take on Cinderella, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
A spokeswoman for Aldi confirmed the chain had removed copies from its stores following "comments by a limited number of concerned customers regarding the language used in this particular book." Within hours of the decision becoming public, Aldi's Facebook page "was inundated with critical comments," the Morning Herald wrote.
The Guardian noted that the ban "has prompted reaction among book lovers on social media, with fans of the Children's Book Council of Australia Facebook page saying they planned to write to the German chain to demand the books be restocked."
Mark Rubbo, managing director of Readings bookstores, Melbourne, "said he didn't know of any other retailers who had banned Dahl's books, but said he had noticed an increase in the number of people requesting titles be removed from his stores," the Guardian noted.
"Usually I respond by saying, we're not censors, and there are a lot of books that we sell that I or my staff find offensive," Rubbo observed. "But it's not our role to take them off the shelves. It's up to the reader to make those decisions.”
Obituary Note: Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys); Winifred Dawson
Belgian author and China scholar Pierre Ryckmans, who was better known under his pen name Simon Leys, died August 11. He was 78. The Guardian reported that "his diary dissecting Maoism and the cultural revolution, Les Habits Neufs du Président Mao (The Chairman's New Clothes, 1971), echoed the title of the Hans Christian Andersen fable and made its thesis plain in its first few words.... His novella The Death of Napoleon (1991) was filmed as The Emperor's New Clothes, with Ian Holm in the title role."
Winifred Dawson, a librarian who "inspired five of Philip Larkin's poems--more than did any of the other women in his life," has died, the Guardian reported, noting that the poet's new biographer, James Booth, described their relationship as a "romantic friendship."
Image of the Day: Lincoln's Watchdog
Ever-vigilant Sammy "acts as security" at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, according to owner Daniel R. Weinberg.
Octavia Books Voted 'Best of New Orleans 2014'
Octavia Books was voted "Best Locally Owned Bookstore" in Gambit's Best of New Orleans 2014 poll. "There are more books out there than hours in a lifetime, so how to curate a reading list to make the most of a reading life? The folks at Octavia Books will help you do just that, whether its breaking down an esoteric classic or recommending the latest crime noir," Gambit noted. Finishing second was Maple Street Book Shop, with Garden District Book Shop third.
Video: Amazon Prime Air vs. Indie Bookstore
In a new parody video, writer and documentary filmmaker Michael Stusser imagines the not-so-distant future world of Amazon Prime Air service, which "delivers products to your door with a fleet of aerial drones in 30 minutes! Insane publicity stunt? Or the future of customer service? You be the judge!" The happy ending features a glimpse of Merryweather Books, Seattle, Wash.
Vintage Photo Gallery: 'Librarians Being Awesome'
"Librarians, in case you hadn't heard, are essential members of society--likely to expand minds wherever they go--and, as such, are fully worthy of hero worship (whether they're among the coolest librarians alive or just pretty cool)," Flavorwire noted in featuring "25 vintage photos of librarians being awesome" from My Daguerreotype Librarian. The tumblr describes itself as being "dedicated to literally or figuratively hunky and babely librarians from the past."
Book Trailer of the Day: The Scroll
The Scroll by Parrish Smith (Kensington), based on the author's documentary series of the same name, featuring modern-day prophets.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Doris Kearns Goodwin on Meet the Press
Today in a repeat on Fresh Air: John Waters, author of Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, 9780374298630).
Tomorrow on Weekend Edition: Emily Spivack, author of Worn Stories (Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95, 9781616892760).
Sunday on Meet the Press: Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster, $22, 9781416547877).
Sunday on TLC's new Sunday Brunch: Lauren Rothman, author of Style Bible: What to Wear to Work (Bibliomotion, $22.95, 9781937134709).
Movies: Rosewater; Seventh Son
A trailer is out for Rosewater, Jon Stewart's directorial debut and an adaptation of Maziar Bahari's book Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival. Deadline.com reported that Stewart "took a summer hiatus from his Comedy Central show to direct his own script" of the film, which stars Gael Garcia Bernal. Rosewater opens in theaters November 7.
The new trailer has been released for for Seventh Son, adapted from Joseph Delaney's YA fantasy sci-fi series "The Last Apprentice." Indiewire noted that the movie, directed by Sergei Bodrov and starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Djimon Hounsou, Antje Traue and Olivia Williams, will be released February 6, 2015.
Books & Authors
Awards: New Zealand Post; Scottish Children's
Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer by Jill Trevelyan took Book of the Year honors at the New Zealand Post Book Awards ceremony, where category winners were also announced. This year's honorees include:
Book of the Year and general nonfiction: Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer by Jill Trevelyan
Fiction and People's Choice: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Poetry: Us, Then by Vincent O'Sullivan
Illustrated nonfiction: Coast: A New Zealand Journey by Bruce Ansley and Jane Ussher
Nielsen Booksellers' Choice: Molesworth: Stories from New Zealand's Largest High Country Station by Harry Broad and Rob Suisted
Finalists have been named in three categories for the Scottish Children's Book Awards, celebrating the most popular children's books by Scottish authors or illustrators. The shortlist, which was chosen by a panel of judges, will now be voted on by children across the country to determine winners, who will be announced March 4, 2015. The three overall winners receive £3,000 (about US$4,975) each. You can find the Scottish Children's Book Awards shortlist here.
Book Brahmin: Kristine Kaufman
Kristine Kaufman has been a bookseller for more than 35 years, working for others in various stores until 1998, when she became the proud owner of her own Snow Goose Bookstore, in Stanwood, Wash.
On your nightstand now:
My bedside stack is arranged geologically. The top layer, which gets turned over rapidly and frequently, currently contains The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas, In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides and The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. The next layer is made up of books I prefer to read at a glacial pace, with time for pondering in between reads. The Reach of Rome by Alberto Angela and the late Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land have been those bedrock books for the past year or so. And at the bottom, sadly, is a little book titled Morning Cup of Yoga by Jane Goad Trechsel. Like deeply buried rock, it undoubtedly contains valuable nuggets that would greatly enrich my life, but will probably only be unearthed through a seismic book cataclysm. But I rest easier knowing it's there.
Favorite book when you were a child:
East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Peter Asbjørnsen and Jøorgen Moe. My parents' library contained a battered old Heritage Club edition with Kay Nielsen's stunning illustrations, which I read over and over. I can take it off my own shelf today, catch a faint whiff of my father's pipe tobacco embedded in the pages, and I'm six years old again.
Your top five authors:
Louisa May Alcott (my first real author crush), Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, John Boyne and Robert Goddard. Not a single disappointing book in the bunch.
Book you've faked reading:
Very delicate question for a bookseller. To customers, I would never fake reading anything, but I would happily parrot reviews or other booksellers' opinions as a substitute to actually reading the book myself, perhaps implying that I certainly should read it or that I fully intend to read it at some later date.
Book you're an evangelist for:
At the moment, my favorite handsell (booksellerese for "push") is The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Not only is this a wickedly clever mystery, but it also has some of the best tips on writing I've ever read.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Professionally, lots--that's what makes the bookstore's shelves so colorful. Personally, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, illustrated by the Canadian artist Charles Van Sandwyk. Even though I already had several versions of Willows, I absolutely needed to own this gorgeous edition published by the Folio Society. Beautifully slipcased, spine and boards decorated with old-fashioned gilding, heavy, creamy paper, and fabulous illustrations--the kind of real book you just have to pet as you read.
Book that changed your life:
Honestly, I think they all have. Book by book, I've built my life by being a reader, each one adding a little something to my understanding of the world. And I'm not done--the next book I read, and the next and the one after that, will change my life a little more.
Favorite line from a book:
"George was fond of peeking in windows." This is the first line of the story "The Tub" in James Marshall's George and Martha. In just seven words, it gives you character, motivation and a foreshadowing of the conflict to come.
Which character you most relate to:
I love this quotation from Marion Garretty: "A novel is a chance to try on a different life for size." I don't think it shows any weakness in my own personality to say that I can almost always find a character to become for the span of time I spend inside a book. Reading, I get to imagine being a little more like Mr. Toad, or a little less like Emma Woodhouse.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker blew my mind.
Review: Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $25.95 hardcover, 9780385539128, September 16, 2014)
In her first story collection since 2006's Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood brings readers nine narratives that concentrate on relationships, revenge and the gradual decline of the human body and mind in old age. In classic Atwood style, each piece is full of succinct, descriptive prose that nails an image to a tee. In the opening lines from the first story, "Alphinland," we learn that Constance is old, alone and faced with the prospect of venturing out in an ice storm; Atwood describes the freezing rain as "handfuls of shining rice thrown by some unseen celebrant. Whenever it hits, it crystallizes into a granulated coating of ice. In the streetlight, it looks so beautiful: like fairy silver...." As Constance watches the weather, she resents the high-definition television that shows "the pores, the wrinkles, the nose hairs, the impossibly whitened teeth shoved right up in front of your eyes so you can't ignore them the way you would in real life."
"Alphinland" is connected to the next two stories via a tangled love story among several characters; the remaining tales stand alone. Atwood delves into the intricacies of retaliation for a heinous crime committed in high school in "Stone Mattress" and analyzes the way a windfall can bring out intense jealousy and/or adoration among friends in "The Dead Hand Loves You." In "Torching the Dusties," Atwood heads toward a more futuristic scenario in which the elderly protagonist suffers from Charles Bonnet syndrome and envisions tiny people clambering on the furniture while unknown protestors converge at the gates of the nursing home. Regardless of the setting, in each, Atwood illustrates the kindness or viciousness of human beings.
Although the themes and topics Atwood addresses are not new--alcohol, sex, love, money, fame, drugs, death, obituaries, extramarital affairs and even a possible vampire--as always, her perspective is bright and energetic. Her prose is full of new takes on old sayings; she describes a series of Victorian row houses by clarifying, "That was before those houses turned into restored Heritage Buildings worth an arm and a bladder...." Atwood firmly grasps the human condition in all its ragged, aging splendor and delivers yet another exceptional addition to her already extensive collection of classics to be read and cherished. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Shelf Talker: The numerous layers of the human psyche and the body's physical condition are revealed in definitive Atwood style.
Robert Gray: Labor Day, Book Trade & River Pilots
It all began yesterday, when I read this in a blog post at Forbes.com: "So is Labor Day an anachronism, a throwback to an earlier time, and no longer a meaningful holiday? My answer is that it can be exceptionally meaningful if we redefine the holiday to be... a celebration of work, regardless of sector. Remember that labor hasn't become easier; it's just changing."
Sometimes one thought leads to another and you make the oddest connections. Even though I was working at my landlocked desk, my mind decided on its own to put out to sea in search of an analogy and returned to port with the following cargo manifest: Labor Day Weekend, New Orleans, river pilots and all of us workers who toil, with pleasure and pain, in the book trade.
Like so many of you in this business, my job requirements include a passion for discovering and cultivating productive relationships with great new reads. Whenever possible, we gently steer these titles through often arduous passage to, ideally, a fathomless sea (or, at minimum, a Great Lake) of eager readers. That doesn't sound easy, and it isn't.
The genesis for my curious line of thought this week was complicated, and included an awareness of the onrushing Labor Day Weekend; recollection of a view from my hotel room during last year's Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance fall conference in New Orleans; and an article I'd read years ago and nearly forgotten.
That hotel room featured a great view from my perch--40 stories above sea level--of the Mississippi meandering through NOLA and an endless parade of ships moving slowly upriver or down. Remembering the ships brought to mind a 2001 Times-Picayune article I'd discovered online in 2006, while presumably searching for something else entirely. Headlined "River pilot basics," the piece had prompted me to scribble some notes for future reference. I was still a bookseller then, and the parallels must have seemed worth contemplating.
The article answered some key questions about its topic, including the most obvious:
Q: What is a river pilot?
A: Mississippi River pilots help captains of foreign ships steer their vessels from the foot of the river at the Gulf of Mexico to cargo terminals as far north as Baton Rouge.
Q: Why is a pilot needed?
A: State law requires that local pilots guide ships along the Mississippi. The theory is that foreign crews lack the knowledge needed to deal with navigational hazards on the river because they rarely visit the area.
Q: What makes a pilot's job tough?
A: Sometimes the job is monotonous. But there is always the possibility of something unforeseen. The unexpected can range from river hazards, such as obstacles, new silt bars, changing currents and river congestion, to shipboard difficulties, such as engine trouble, crew uprisings, violent stowaways, communication problems and threats of disease.
I think a comparable list of bookish dangers could easily be conjured for a new title making its perilous journey from manuscript to point of sale, with every stage of the process fraught with "the possibility of something unforeseen."
In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain used steamboat pilots as an analogy for workers in the book trade (well not really, but I'm bending the analogy a bit here to suit my own purposes) when he wrote: "Two things seemed pretty apparent to me. One was, that in order to be a pilot a man had got to learn more than any one man ought to be allowed to know; and the other was, that he must learn it all over again in a different way every twenty-four hours.... Now I had often seen pilots gazing at the water and pretending to read it as if it were a book; but it was a book that told me nothing."
A book pilot--and we are all book pilots in this business--has to keep gazing, too. The titles we love always need our help in dealing with "navigational hazards" as we guide them to their destinations. The books tell us where they should go. We try like hell to get them there safely and then we "learn it all over again in a different way" for the next one.
Happy Labor Day, book people. Enjoy the BBQ, beach and extra time off, but don't forget to celebrate... your work. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)