Shelf Awareness for Thursday, December 2, 2010

Viking: Holiday Thank You Ad

St. Martin's: Saltwater Cowboy by Tim McBride

Delacorte Press: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

Tarcher: Four Ways to Click by Amy Banks & Leigh Ann Hirschman

Harper: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Macmillan Children's: Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks

Macmillan Children's: Shutter by Courtney Alameda

St. Martin's: The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe

 

Quotation of the Day

Life in 1500: 'Sheer Mass of New Books Was Distracting Readers'

"But around 1500, humanist scholars began to bemoan new problems: Printers in search of profit, they complained, rushed to print manuscripts without attention to the quality of the text, and the sheer mass of new books was distracting readers from the focus on the ancient authors most worthy of attention. Printers 'fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness,' wrote Erasmus in the early 16th century, in the kind of tirade that might seem familiar to anyone exhausted by what they find online today."

--Ann Blair in her Boston Globe article, "Information overload, the early years."

 

Abrams: Holiday Thank You Ad

Letters

Booksellers Protest S&S Groupon Offer

The following is an open letter from Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif., co-signed by some other booksellers, to Simon & Schuster about its Black Friday Groupon offer to consumers of $40 worth of books at a 50% discount. (Incidentally Google has just made a $6 billion bid to buy Groupon.)

Dear Simon & Schuster:
 
Thanks for your reply to my e-mail expressing displeasure about Simon's recent Groupon offer selling $40 of Simon books to consumers for $20.
 
Here's what you wrote me:
 

Thanks for being in touch with me about Groupon. We thought it was an interesting idea and a good way to promote our books to some 25 million consumers during the peak holiday book buying season. While we're pleased with the response so far, like most direct mail promotions the percentage of recipients who act on any given offer is miniscule, and we think that the exposure we've created for our S&S titles, and the reminder that books make great gifts, will likely drive traffic to other booksellers as well. We'll continue to try new approaches to selling books, and hope you will as well (in fact, some independent stores have already worked with Groupon in their local markets).

I appreciate your response and am glad you let me know how you felt.

 
There is a distinct difference between "promoting" your books--which is how you describe your Groupon offer--and selling books directly to (25 million!) customers at better discounts than even your established sales channels can get. You can either sell your books directly to the public via the Internet, or you can support a healthy sales channel that has sold your books day in and day out for decades. You can't undercut indies and expect them to remain viable.
 
As for trying new approaches to selling books and hoping we will, too: we have. At Green Apple, we have done two Groupon-like offers this year, and we have embraced Facebook, Twitter, e-mail newsletters, blogging, book videos and more. And others among the undersigned have taken their own creative initiatives. In fact, Green Apple is often asked to speak at industry gatherings about our innovative attempts to sell books, including Simon's. So please think twice before implying that we're stuck in the past.
 
As for your statement that your Groupon offer will "likely drive traffic to other booksellers as well," all I can say is that I'll update you in January. If a single person mentions your Groupon when buying a book at Green Apple this month--and we should do over 20,000 transactions in December alone, so your odds are decent if your logic is correct--I'll eat my proverbial shorts (though if they then ask for 50% off, our deal's off).
 
We understand that the indie share of the book market has declined, but we still think we're relevant in promoting (and selling) quality books to our customers.
 
In evaluating your Groupon experience, please think about the difference between selling your books and promoting your books to drive traffic to our sites and stores.  I also ask you to respect Green Apple's 40-plus year relationship with Simon. And finally, in your otherwise noble quest to sell more books, please don't forget your roots.
 
Finally, if the offer still stands, many of the undersigned would like to buy 100s of your Groupons so we, too, can enjoy 50% off.

Best,

Pete Mulvihill
 
With express support from other indies, including:

Paul Yamazaki, City Lights, San Francisco, Calif.
Kate Levinson, Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes Station, Calif.
Marion Abbot, Mrs. Dalloway's, Berkeley, Calif.
John and Susan Rusel, Mountain Bookshop, Sonora, Calif.
Amy Thomas, Pegasus Books, Berkeley and Oakland, Calif.
Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass.
Dana Brigham, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass.

Akashic Books: Holiday Thank You Ad

News

Image of the Day: Horrid Henry & Third- and Fourth-Graders

Last week "Horrid Henry" visited these third- and fourth-graders at the Chicago Academy to sign copies of the latest book in his series, Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman (written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross, published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky).

 

FSG: Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Notes: E-Book Opportunities; Closed Bookstore Reopens


The Motley Fool's verdict on Google Editions: "Given the retail successes of Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and the Apple iPad, the time seems absolutely ripe for a new way of enjoying books in a convenient, digital format. Then again, things didn't exactly work out as planned when Google tried to revolutionize the smartphone industry a year ago. The difference is, Google has a lot of industry partners this time that don't seem to mind playing in a new kind of sandbox."

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In her December letter to customers, Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands, Tempe, Ariz., wrote, "We're wondering, as many of you are wondering, what impact e-books will have on bookstores and the way we all read books. Will you still come into the store for recommendations, to browse the miles of new and used books lined up on our shelves, to experience the sensual pleasure of seeing the most recent arrivals and old favorites featured in displays, or to hear authors read? Will you also download e-books on your computer, smartphone, iPad, Sony Reader or Nook? For our part, we believe books and e-books will co-exist peacefully.... We're hopeful that what has drawn readers to their neighborhood book shops for generations will survive the advent of these electronic devices. We also hope that if you use them, you'll buy e-books from us on devices that support choice and allow for a more level playing field. We think choice and diversity are important and hope you agree."

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Similarly in a New York Times story about the imminent launch of Google Editions--in which IndieBound bookstores can participate--American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher said, "It's clear that a certain percentage of readers are going to want to read books electronically, and independent bookstores can curate that content in the same way we curate content for physical books. This is an opportunity to do so, and we're eagerly looking forward to it."

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Not Just A Bookstore, St. Louis, Mo., will host its grand re-opening in a new space at 4507 Manchester Ave., a year after closing its East Loop location "because there wasn't enough revenue," the Riverfront Times reported. Co-owner Connie Cheek said, "I see this as a community hub. I want to empower people. I'm an advocate for literacy as well as a bookstore owner." She plans to "keep her job as a branch administrator at Edward Jones and leave the store in the hands of [husband] Richard and her sister Rosemary Chinaza."

"I don't want to go into an area and close up two years later like last time," she added. "Owning a bookstore is a dream come true for me. There are kids in high school and elementary school who are afraid to read out loud. I want to empower people."

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The New York Times headed to San Francisco, "a place, after all, where dozens of fiercely independent bookstores not only survive but thrive, thanks to a city of readers who seem to view books not only as a pleasure, but as a cause."

The paper continued, "Books, we are told, are a half-millennium-old technology on the cusp of being swept away forever. So a journey to San Francisco to immerse oneself in them might seem the cultural equivalent of going to visit the glaciers before they melt. But in San Francisco, the home of many of the very technologies that have drawn a bead on the book, visitors will find a living, historically rooted literary scene that, though it has surely heard the news of its own demise, isn't buying it."

Among the stores on the tour: Green Apple, City Lights, Modern Times, the Booksmith, Dog Eared Books and more.

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Cool idea of the day: the cover of The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville (Featherproof Books) easily turns into a miniature mobile of the universe (see photo). The publisher has sent mobile kits, including popsicle sticks and strings, to some bookstores.

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Bookmovement.com, the bookclub site with more than 26,000 registered bookclubs and more than 12,000 reading group guides, has picked Room by Emma Donoghue as its first Member Book of the Year.

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The New York Times listed its 10 best books of 2010, and NPR began running its best books of 2010, to which critics and contributors will continue to add their nominations during the coming weeks.

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Baker & Taylor is holding a webinar on graphic novels that will take place next Wednesday, December 8, at 2 p.m. and last about 25 minutes. Participants will include Michele Gorman, teen services coordinator, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library; Françoise Mouly, editorial director, TOON Books; and John Shableski, sales manager, Diamond Book Distributors. Among subjects to be considered: why a library or retailer should stock graphic novels, how librarians and retailers can select titles appropriate for multiple audiences, how ratings work and what authors and titles they should know about.

The webinar is free. To register, click here.

---

Amazon.com and Penguin Group are sponsoring the fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award that will, for the second year in a row, have two categories: general fiction and YA novel. Writers from around the world with unpublished or self-published novels are invited to enter. Both grand prize winners will be published by Penguin and receive $15,000 advances.

The award process begins January 24 when up to 10,000 initial entries will be accepted. Amazon.com editors will select 1,000 entries from each category to go to the next round. Amazon editors and at least one Amazon reviewer will read excerpts from those entries and narrow the pool to 250 in each category. Then reviewers from Publishers Weekly will read the full manuscripts and pick 50 semifinalists in each category. Penguin editors will then trim that group down to three in each category. A panel of professionals and Amazon customers will vote for the grand prize winner.

The 2010 awards drew thousands of entrants. The winning general fiction novel, Farishta by Patricia McArdle, will be published next June by Riverhead. The winning YA novel, Sign Language by Amy Ackley, will be published in August by Viking.

For more information, go to amazon.com/abna.

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In a similar vein, Melville House will publish the winner of the Paris Literary Prize, a €10,000 award for the best unpublished novella of the year. The prize was created this past summer by Shakespeare and Company in Paris. A panel of critics and writers as well as sponsors Shakespeare and Company and the De Groot Foundation will select the winner.

The deadline for submissions is December 18. For more information, go to ParisLiteraryPrize.com.

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Book trailer of the day: Year of Our Lord: Faith, Hope and Harmony in the Mississippi Delta by T.R. Pearson, photographs by Langdon Clay (Mockingbird Publishing).

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Headline of the day: "Sarah Palin Killed Davis-Kidd!!!!." Nashville Scene's Betsy Phillips considered the big picture implications surrounding an appearance by Palin at the Cool Springs Costco to promote her new book, America by Heart.

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It's not Banned Books Week, but book challenges are making news. According to USA Today, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an attorney with the American Library Association, said that while challenges were traditionally launched by a parent, she has noticed "an uptick in organized efforts" to remove books from public and school libraries, with several challengers using "information provided on websites such as Parents Against Bad Books in Schools, or PABBIS.org, and Safelibraries.org."

Another recent trend is a wave of complaints nationwide that have "stirred emotional argument over just how much freedom should be extended to students in advanced courses," including honors or college-level courses, USA Today wrote.

"This is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it's spreading," said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

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Is it cold in here or am I reading? The Guardian featured a quiz devoted to cold weather in literature.

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A photo of "teetering mountains of occult books" in a Boston bookshop was showcased by Boing Boing.

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Charles Day has joined Melville House as director of digital marketing and publicity. He is founder and publisher of the publisher A Barnacle Book and founder and director of Laughing Man Industries, a media marketing and consulting firm. Earlier he was general manager of Book Soup bookstore in Los Angeles, Calif., where he started as manager of marketing and new media development.


Holiday Hum: Merrily Mysterious

Those with heart are being rewarded for their generosity at Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, Calif., which specializes in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense and horror.

Customers are invited to participate in the "Read, Celebrate and Give" promotion by contributing books, gifts, school supplies and toiletries for students at the Monarch School, a nonprofit organization that serves the city's homeless children. Those who make a donation are entered into a drawing with a chance to win a $100 Mysterious Galaxy gift certificate and other prizes.

Winners will be announced at the store's Eat! Read! Party! soirée on December 11. Headlining the event are 10 authors, among them fantasy scribe S.G. Browne, whose latest tale is Fated; science fiction writer Gini Koch, the author of Alien Tango; and Lyle Perez-Tinics, editor of The Undead that Saved Christmas, which features an introduction by Browne and is "the perfect stocking stuffer that doesn't include a box of shotgun shells or a macheté," according to the store's newsletter. Authors and illustrators who contributed to the eerie anthology worked pro bono, and net proceeds from the book are being donated to Hugs Foster Family Agency.

Also joining in the festivities is Debra Ginsberg (a reviewer for Shelf Awareness!), who is treating attendees to "stunt bundt" cake, a dessert that features in her new suspense novel, The Neighbors Are Watching.

In addition to the holiday party, with gift suggestions from Random House and HarperCollins sales reps, the same evening the store is hosting a release party for fans of Last Sacrifice, the final volume in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, which goes on sale December 7. "We're keeping it upbeat and fun and trying to get as many people in here as possible," said store manager Bunny Hand.

Shoppers are picking up copies of Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files, which "has been selling like crazy," noted Hand. Another top selection is Lane Smith's It's a Book, an illustrated story that lightheartedly examines print as a medium in the digital age. The latter is highlighted in a display of titles from the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association holiday "Wish Book."

Another display at the front of the store--which is festively decorated in a silver color scheme--features staff holiday picks. A variety of gift ideas range from I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett and Star Wars: Millennium Falcon--3-D Owner's Guide to two of Hand's selections, the thriller Think of a Number by John Verdon and Adrienne Sharp's historical novel The True Memoirs of Little K about a prima ballerina in Tsarist Russia.

To catch the attention of passersby who haven't finished their shopping, arranged in a window are mugs, key chains, magnets, license plate frames and other merchandise adorned with the IndieBound slogan Eat, Sleep, Read (consistent year-round sellers) and an array of books and sidelines brought in for the season such as Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Trivia Game and Crossword Cubes: The Crossword Dice Game.

Whether they've been naughty or nice, one lucky reader will be getting a stocking filled with mass market paperbacks courtesy of Random House. When customers buy a paperback from any publisher, they're given a raffle ticket for a chance to win the bounty of books.

In addition, shoppers who make an in-store purchase from Black Friday through the end of December receive a discount coupon that can be redeemed on New Year's Day and entitles them to all of the special offers at a four-hour sale.

Perhaps they can pick up one of the book-themed T-shirts originally intended to be stocked only for the holidays but which have proven so popular they're now part of the store's permanent inventory. Some of the apparel's witty literary sayings: The Book Was Better, Read Irresponsibly and, for those in the red after the holiday season is over, Will Work for Books.--Shannon McKenna Schmidt

 

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Kardashians on Conan

Tomorrow on the Talk: Tim Gunn, author of Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work (Gallery, $23.99, 9781439176566/1439176566).

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Tomorrow night on Conan: Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, authors of Kardashian Konfidential (St. Martin's, $25.99, 9780312628079/0312628072).

 

Theater: A Christmas Story--The Musical!

Peter Billingsley played nine-year-old Ralphie Parker in the 1983 holiday film classic A Christmas Story, which was based on Jean Shepherd's short stories. Now Billingsley is the executive producer for a musical adaptation of the film. Previews of A Christmas Story: The Musical! began yesterday at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, the Hollywood Reporter wrote.
 
"A Christmas Story has always meant a lot to me personally," said Billingsley. "I'm excited to bring this film to the stage because the story and the characters lend themselves so well to the world of musicals.... I am honored to be a part of this project and look forward to bringing the play to more stages. Just think about the idea of a leg-lamp kickline."

 

This Weekend on Book TV: Salman Rushdie in Depth

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, December 4

9 a.m. David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower discuss their book Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969 (S&S, $28, 9781439190906/1439190909). (Re-airs Saturday at 8:45 p.m. and Sunday at 3:15 a.m.)

10:15 a.m. Ted Fishman assesses what the world will be like in 2030 in Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation (Scribner, $27.50, 9781416551027/1416551026). (Re-airs Sunday at 6 a.m.)

11 a.m. Philip Dray, author of There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (Doubleday, $35, 9780385526296/0385526296), presents a history of organized labor in the U.S. (Re-airs Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 12 a.m.)

12 p.m. Benjamin Carp, author of Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America (Yale University Press, $30, 9780300117059/0300117051), chronicles the causes and impact of the Boston Tea Party in 1773. (Re-airs Sunday at 8 a.m., Saturday, December 11, at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.)

3 p.m. For an event hosted by Politics & Prose bookstore, Washington, D.C., Simon Winchester talks about his book Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (Harper, $27.99, 9780061702587/0061702587). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

10 p.m. After Words. Doug Brinkley interviews former President Jimmy Carter, author of White House Diary (FSG, $30, 9780374280994/0374280991), who discusses the journal he kept during his years in office. (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., Monday at 3 a.m., and Sunday, December 12, at 12 p.m.)

Sunday, December 5

7 a.m. Robert Reich, author of After-Shock: The Next Economy and America's Future (Knopf, $25, 9780307592811/0307592812), argues that the root cause of the 2008 economic collapse was not Wall Street, but our ever-increasing inequality of wealth. (Re-airs Sunday at 8 p.m. and Monday at 7 a.m.)

12 p.m. In Depth. Salman Rushdie, whose most recent book is Luka and the Fire of Life (Random House, $25; 9780679463368/0679463364), joins Book TV for a live interview. Viewers can participate in the discussion by calling in during the program or submitting questions to booktv@c-span.org or via Twitter (@BookTV). (Re-airs Monday at 12 a.m. and Saturday, December 11, at 9 a.m.)

4 p.m. Book TV features a roundtable discussion about George W. Bush's Decision Points (Crown, $35, 9780307590619/0307590615) with panelists Lara Brown, Tevi Troy and Julian Zelizer. (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

 

Books & Authors

Awards: Scottish Book of the Year; Dylan Thomas Shortlist

James Robertson won the £30,000 (US$46,714) Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year award for his novel And the Land Lay Still, which "examines the cultural changes in Scotland between the Second World War and the founding of the Scottish Parliament, and how the aspirations of many Scots for a socialist Britain gave way to a resurgent nationalism and a greater demand for home rule," the Scotsman reported.

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The shortlist for the 2010 University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize includes Watering Can by Caroline Bird, Clamor by Elyse Fenton, The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, And This Is True by Emilie Mackie, Family Planning by Karan Mahajan and Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed.

 

 

Book Brahmin: Peter James

 

Before becoming a novelist, Peter James was a film and TV screenwriter and producer and lived for many years in North America. His international bestselling crime thrillers are published in 33 languages, and his latest, Dead Like You (Minotaur, November 23, 2010) was the first novel in eight years to prevent James Patterson from reaching the #1 slot in the U.K.

On your nightstand now:

Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon J. Geberth. Written by the former commander of the Bronx Homicide Task Force, this is the definitive guide to homicide investigation. I keep it by my bed, because in my office people open it out of curiosity--and it is full of seriously grim, real-life crime scene photos. I've known one hardened journalist casually flick through a few pages then run to the bathroom! But for me it is essential reading and brilliantly informative.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Enid Blyton's Five on a Treasure Island. I was an obsessive letter writer as a child, and when I read this novel, at eight years old, I wrote to Enid Blyton and told her I had really like it but I was worried that they had spent seven days on this island and not one of them had gone to the toilet in all that time! She wrote a very sweet letter back telling me that they had gone, she just had not written about those bits as she didn't think little boys would be interested....

Your top five authors:

Arthur Conan Doyle, Graham Greene, Elmore Leonard, William Boyd, Michael Connelly.

Book you've faked reading:

War and Peace. I've taken it away on holiday with me so often I feel like I have read it. But the truth is every time I open it to the first page, I then look at the number of pages, and think about all the books I want to read in my lifetime, and I realize life is too short to devote so much of it to one single volume. But I know I should read it and would probably hugely enjoy it. 

Book you're an evangelist for:

Slaughterhouse Five. I just loved the humanity and humor in this book, quite apart from it being one of the most powerful antiwar novels ever written. I read it when at film school and the instant I finished I phoned director enquires and to my amazement was given Kurt Vonnegut's home number on Martha's Vineyard. I phoned and he answered it himself! I asked him if I could buy the film rights. He was very sweet and told me he was sorry but they were already sold, but he took my number and promised to call me back if anything should change. So it goes....

Book you've bought for the cover:

Explaining Death to the Dog by Susan Perabo. Well, it was the title, rather than the cover. Quite one of the catchiest titles--and, as a dog lover, it was irresistible!

Book that changed your life:

My true eureka moment I guess was when I was 14 and read Graham Greene's Brighton Rock for the first time. As a kid growing up in this city of Brighton where it was set, this novel just blew me away. When I finished the book, I promised myself that one day I would try to write a novel, set in Brighton, that was just 10% as good as this one! It is for me an almost perfect novel. It has one of the most grabbing opening lines ever written--and one of the finest last lines--very clever, very tantalizing and very, very "noir," yet apt. Green captures so vividly the dark, criminal underbelly of Brighton and Hove, as relevant now as when the book was first written, and the characters are wonderful, deeply human, deeply flawed and tragic. And yet, far more than being just an incredibly tense thriller, Greene uses the novel to explore big themes of religious faith, love and honor.

Favorite line from a book:

I've always loved the first line of Brighton Rock. To me it is one of the most grabbing opening lines every written. I defy anyone who reads it not to then want to read on: "Within 30 minutes of arriving in Brighton, Hale knew they meant to kill him."

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

Every book that I have truly loved! The list is massive. One I would love to read again for the first time would be Pincher Martin by William Golding. A short book with the best and most gut-wrenching twist at the ending I can ever remember. Another, for the sheer joy of it would be Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe--a wonderful book, terrific characters, a wonderful evocation of a particular time and era.

The book you wish you had written:

There are so many! One would be The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. A novel that in many ways changed the course of the crime thriller. It so brilliantly got inside the mind of the victim, the killer, the extraordinary creation of Hannibal Lecter and the FBI agent. An amazingly accomplished and rounded book--almost equaled by its predecessor, Red Dragon.

The most unputdownable book you have ever read:

Jaws by Peter Benchley. I started reading this book toward the end of a plane journey to New York, and I had an important meeting at 8.30 a.m. I could not stop reading the damned thing and finished at 4 a.m.! I was then terrified of swimming in the sea for about 20 years afterward!

 

Book Review

Book Review: What Happens Next? and Preparations for the Ascent

What Happens Next? & Preparations for the Ascent: Two Novels by Gilbert Rogin (Verse Chorus Press, $17.95 Paperback, 9781891241277, November 2010)

"The trouble with us, Daisy, is that you look at things mathematically," Julian Singer informs his wife in all earnestness in Gilbert Rogin's humorous, astringent What Happens Next? Daisy is puzzled by her husband's odd pronouncement, but she's used to Julian's off-the-wall summaries of what is amiss in their marriage and blithely carries on by making her own off-kilter response. It's the 1960s in Manhattan, where your psychiatrist, even if he's worthless and seeing your entire family as clients, is a key sounding board; existential angst colors everything. Yet Julian remains jaunty as he attempts to relate to and cope with his wife, his two stepchildren, his wife's down-and-out ex-husband, his hilarious parents, his beloved dachshunds and, of course, his band of girlfriends.

Rogin constructs What Happens Next? (first published in 1971 and reissued with his 1980's Preparations for the Ascent) in short vignettes, almost like snapshots; its bracing staccato pace takes us back to a period when novels considered serious literature (think Joseph Heller, Bruce Jay Friedman, Philip Roth) could include scenes bringing unexpected laughter to readers without being dismissed as light. Julian Singer, like so many antiheroes of the novels of that time, is struggling on every level--professional, personal and sexual--and can throw up a smoke screen of verbal wit to protect himself from confronting the hollowness that he feels. His yearning to connect is always there, however, and Rogin captures moments of surprising tenderness like the one in which Julian teases Daisy that she is an extraterrestrial, and she answers him, "Would you like to know why I came to Earth?... To put my arms around you and to solace your existence."

Preparations for the Ascent takes place a few years after its companion novel and, though it shares the other's dark humor, has a more somber tone. Husband and wife have now separated (as presaged by the necessary separation of the dachshunds, who had suddenly started attacking each other after years of harmony) and the stepchildren are going through difficult stages. Characters (named differently in the later novel--Julian is now Albert, Daisy is now Violet) quote Benjamin Constant ("Jokes appear to hold the real key to life.") and other luminaries to elevate conflict above the non sequitur zingers of the earlier novel. Together, the two novels (long out-of-print) bring Julian/Albert's quest for responsible adulthood to poignant, complex life.--John McFarland

Shelf Starter: Two novels, long out-of print, bring back the heyday of 1960s and 1970s novels that were both respected serious literature and undeniably lively and funny.

 

 

The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Titles in Chicagoland Last Week

The following were the bestselling books at independent bookstores in and near Chicago during the week ended Sunday, November 28:

Hardcover Fiction

1. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
2. Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler
3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
4. Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre
5. Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

Hardcover Nonfiction

1. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 by Mark Twain
2. Decision Points by George W. Bush
3. Life by Keith Richards
4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand
5. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

Paperback Fiction

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
3. The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg
4. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
5. Finkler's Question by Howard Jacobson

Paperback Nonfiction

1. Just Kids by Patti Smith
2. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
3. Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
4. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
5. The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

Children's

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kenney
2. The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney
3. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
4. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
5. Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama

Reporting bookstores: Anderson's, Naperville and Downers Grove; Read Between the Lynes, Woodstock; the Book Table, Oak Park; the Book Cellar, Lincoln Square; Lake Forest Books, Lake Forest; the Bookstall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka; and 57th St. Books; Seminary Co-op; Women and Children First, Chicago.

[Many thanks to the booksellers and Carl Lennertz!]

 

 

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