Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 1, 2011
Happy Fourth of July!
Because of the Independence Day holiday on Monday, this is our last issue until Tuesday, July 5. See you then!
Quotation of the Day
In Praise of Gatekeepers: 'Cherish the Book Publishers'
"It's only natural for those locked out to despise the gatekeepers, but what about those of us in the reading public? Shouldn't we be grateful that it's someone else's job to weed out the inane, the insipid, the incompetent? Not that they always do such a great job of it, given some of the books that do get published by actual publishers. But at least they provide some buffer between us and the many aspiring authors who are like the wannabe pop stars in the opening weeks of each American Idol season: How many instant novelists are as deluded as the singers who make with the strangled-cat noises believing they have Arethaen pipes?... No doubt there are geniuses languishing in obscurity. Who knows how many great books are just waiting to be discovered? But are we really more likely to find them once the publishing pros have been handed their hats and shown the door? I rather doubt it."
Image of the Day: Boo, 'World's Cutest Dog'
Chronicle Books is already barking up the publicity tree about Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog by J.H. Lee, with photographs by Gretchen LeMaistre, which will be published in September. Boo is, Chronicle says, "the most popular dog on Facebook," with more than 1.3 million fans. At a recent very pre-pub party, Chronicle employees chowed down cupcakes with bone-shaped decorations and images of Boo and took photos with the star, who patiently posed with (and licked) his fans.
Borders Auction: BOMC Owner Opts to Purchase
Borders Group has picked Direct Brands, which is owned by private equity firm Najafi Companies, as its "stalking horse" bidder in an auction for the company that will be held July 19. Direct Brands, which owns Book-of-the-Month Club, Doubleday Book Clubs and Columbia House, would pay $215 million for Borders's assets as well as assume about $220 million in liabilities. Borders would then continue in business as a subsidiary of Direct Brands. Any stores not bought by Direct Brands would be closed down by liquidators Hilco or Gordon Brothers.
If Borders is not sold as an ongoing business, it has plans to liquidate through a joint venture of Hilco and Gordon Brothers.
The Wall Street Journal noted that "a stalking-horse bidder like Direct Brands is often in the driver's seat during bankruptcy court auctions, as it typically stands to reap breakup and other fees if competing bidders succeed in their bids. Borders would have to pay about a $6.5 million breakup fee should another suitor emerge to top Direct Brands' offer, a person familiar with the matter said."
The paper also noted that liquidators can bid at the auction and possibly top any bids to keep the company running. "Borders could be obligated to accept a bid from liquidators if it provides a better deal for lenders, publishers, landlords and other creditors."
Notes: Editorial Changes at Norton; Swipe Fee Blues
Starling Lawrence, vice-chairman and editor-in-chief of the trade department at W.W. Norton & Company, is, at his own request, giving up his administrative duties to become editor-at-large.
At the same time, John A. Glusman, executive editor and v-p of Crown Publishing Group, is moving to Norton to become v-p and editor-in-chief of the trade department.
"We have made huge strides with our publishing program over the past two decades, thanks to Star Lawrence's superb leadership," Norton chairman and president Drake McFeely said. "As Star devotes himself fully to his editorial work, we are delighted to welcome John Glusman, whose excellent judgment, keen publishing instincts, and experience at the highest editorial levels make him the ideal person to lead Norton's trade department into a new era."
The Federal Reserve's decision Wednesday to set a cap on swipe fees for debit cards at 21 cents was "a conclusion that pleased neither banks nor merchants," Bookselling This Week reported, noting that as part of the Durbin Amendment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed last year, "the Fed was given the task of implementing swipe fee reforms. In December 2010, it issued proposed rules that would set a maximum swipe fee of 12 cents per debit card transaction, down from an average of 44 cents." The new rules take effect on October 1.
Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, called the announcement "a disappointment to merchants and consumers who face unfair and excessive fees imposed by big banks and credit card companies. The Federal Reserve’s about-face suggests it abandoned the facts that the Board embraced in the December proposed rules, instead ceding to the wishes of the big banks and credit card companies."
Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said American consumers "suffered a major loss.... We are extremely disappointed that the Federal Reserve chose to be influenced by special interests and ignored the will of Congress and American consumers. While the rate will provide modest relief, it does not go far enough."
Beginning today, customers can bring any e-reading device into a Barnes & Noble bookstore to, in the company's words, "compare and upgrade to a Nook device and receive an instant Nook Book collection--30 free digital titles valued at $315." While supplies last, B&N customers will get a free, 2GB microSD card loaded with the e-books with the purchase of any Nook device.
Early reviews of the offer were less than enthusiastic. CrunchGear noted that the titles include Glory in the Fall: The Greatest Moments in World Series History, 21st Century Crossword Puzzle Dictionary and My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me. "There are some cookbooks in there and a few other interesting titles but it’s not like you’re going to score a complete Stephen King library or anything.... You can also just grab the 2GB card, erase it, and put your own books bought on your previous reader on there, which is what I suspect they’re really trying to offer here."
PaidContent.org also "took a look at the list of e-books that Barnes & Noble is offering free, and it reminded me of the books on a B&N bargain table--titles like AARP Crash Course in Finding the Work You Love, Susie's Sun Signs, and Country Living: The Mom's Guide to Running a Business. Six of the titles are in the public domain, so they're already free anyway. When I totaled the value of the books, I got $263.66. Perhaps B&N is valuing the SD card at $52.... Barnes & Noble's store sales are down, and the company is trying to find ways to lure shoppers into stores."
Blurb 2.0. Citing an e-mail sent to literary agent Elyse Cheney, the New York Observer reported that Amazon Publishing "is looking to revolutionize the process of getting author blurbs: provide a review for a book on an Amazon imprint and Amazon will give the reviewer--and his or her book--extra promotion as a thank you."
The recent study by Cornell's Trevor Pinch of Amazon's reviewers (Shelf Awareness, June 24, 2011) was examined in detail by PaidContent.org, which concluded that "reading Pinch’s interviews with reviewers, you get a sense of how hard it is maintain the integrity of a process that is dependent on a virtual army of unpaid but still presumably capitalist-minded laborers. If they’re not paid, they are going to find other incentives and motivations--which may in some cases work at cross purposes with their primary mandate, to produce honest and independent-minded reviews."
"How to Make It As an Independent Bookseller" was the topic of the day yesterday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, where Joyce Meskis, owner of Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo., talked about "the challenges of operating an indie bookstore in an ever-changing climate, and the future she sees for the nation's independent booksellers."
Cool idea of the day: Inspired by the bookstore tourism movement, as well as educational sessions developed by the ABA and the Midwest Booksellers Association, several northern Minnesota independent booksellers--Beagle Books & Bindery, Park Rapids; Sister Wolf Books & Coffee, Park Rapids; Turtle Town Books, Brainerd; Cherry Street Books, Alexandria; and Bookin’ It, Little Falls--have created an "Indie Bound 'Round" shop hop, which will take place August 18-21, Bookselling This Week reported.
"Our hope is really to make people more aware of indie bookstores and their importance," said Jennifer Wills Geraedts, manager of Beagle Books. "I'm hoping some of my regular customers will participate and think, 'Oh, when I'm in the Little Falls area, I can shop at Bookin' It,' instead of going to a chain store.... We're really excited, and we're expecting it to be a really great event. It's one of those things that really has room to grow."
Vanderbilt University's bookstore will move to a former Borders location at 2525 West End Avenue in Nashville, and be operated by Barnes & Noble College, the Business Journal reported. An opening is anticipated this fall. The store aims to serve the local area as well as the university.
"A strong and thriving bookstore where a campus community can easily gather for literary and intellectual offerings is critically important to a university," Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos observed. "This new location and partnership give us an even greater opportunity to advance our academic mission for the campus and the larger Nashville community."
Sad news from Bookseller and Publisher Online: Reader's Feast in downtown Melbourne, Australia, will close in the next four to five weeks, another casualty of the REDgroup Retail bankruptcy. The highly regarded 20-year-old store is managed by Mary Dalmau, a former president of the Australian Booksellers Association, and is owned by REDgroup.
Dalmau told the Weekly Book Newsletter that the store is closing "due to a variety of reasons, all of which are beyond our control," which include "the problems of REDgroup Retail, lease issues at Midtown Plaza, and the forecasted disruption throughout 2012 of the Swanston Street redevelopment."
Dalmau said she hoped to be back bookselling soon. "It is time for new beginnings. I am a career, vocational bookseller and cannot imagine being out of the book trade. So I will hopefully establish a new business and bring both our colleagues and customers with us."
She thanked the staff, publishers and "the readers and writers of Melbourne, Australia and around the world and around the world who have provided us with such a fabulous and fulfilling career. And, we look forward to meeting them again in the years ahead and talking books!"
Which author--living or dead--would you ask over for burgers and beer this holiday weekend? In Canada, a recent survey conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Historica-Dominion Institut revealed that Margaret Atwood is the author most Canadians would invite to a Canada Day BBQ, followed by Pierre Berton and Farley Mowat. The National Post reported that "two-thirds of respondents were able to name an author (which is very good, according to one expert) but no single author made it onto more than 10% of Canadians’ guest lists."
What should Bernie Madoff be reading in prison? Perhaps you haven't asked yourself that question, but the New York Times Arts Beat blog explored it for you anyway, noting that Madoff recently said he is devouring books: "Now, I literally read two books a week. I'm reading all the James Michener novels."
The Huffington Post offered its choices for "Coolest Book Covers 2011: The Year's Best So Far," noting, "it's not easy to make a cool book cover. The designer usually has a million different people weighing in, each with a separate need that can potentially tie creativity in a knot."
In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Papa's death, USA Today featured a literary quiz: Do you know the real Ernest Hemingway?
Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were neighbors in Hartford, Conn. That's one of the Huffington Post's eight fascinating facts you probably don't know about famous authors.
Stone wall bookcase: An open air bookshop in Hay Castle, Hay-on-Wye, U.K., was showcased by Book Mania.
Kylie Stillman's art carved out of tall stacks of thick books was highlighted by Boing Boing, which observed that "it would be insanely awesome to typeset a series of books to accommodate this kind of cutting, and then sell them one at a time, requiring the whole set to realize the effect."
Book trailer of the day: Goodnight Keith Moon: A Parody by Bruce Worden and Clare Cross (Can of Worms Press/IPG, $10.95, 9780956011923), which is being published in the U.S. today. Interestingly the authors of the hilarious book, which first appeared earlier this month in the U.K., live in Ann Arbor, Mich. Yesterday AnnArbor.com said hello to the authors of Goodnight Keith Moon.
Hopkins Fulfillment Services, which distributes 13 university presses and non-profit institutions, including Johns Hopkins University Press, has launched HFS Digital. The new service provides clients with addition POD and digital short-run services for their printed books as well as e-book services that include conversion services, digital asset distribution to 40 vendors and sales of individual e-book titles to consumers. Sales to consumers will be handled via a partnership with Sheridan Books' new electronic content services division.
HFS noted that clients "now have the option to sell scholarly works and monographs, often not suited for commercial e-book vendors, direct from their respective websites. Looking to the future, HFS hopes to soon offer e-book rentals and chapter level sales (or chunking)."
Davida Breier, manager of HFS, commented: "As a modern book distributor, we must alter our business models (and mindsets) and focus on the overall concept of distributing content instead of focusing solely on format."
Media and Movies
Media Heat: David McCullough on NPR's Weekend Edition
Sunday on NPR's All Things Considered: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, 9780618812417).
Sunday on NPR's Weekend Edition: David McCullough, author of The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon & Schuster, $37.50, 9781451654455).
Monday on Fox & Friends: Nancy French, co-author of Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War (Center Street, $14.99, 9781931722902).
Harry Potter: Sneak Peek at Gringotts Bank Break-in
Entertainment Weekly featured a film clip from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2--"a behind-the-scenes look at a key scene from early in the film in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak into Gringotts Bank in search of one of the final Horcruxes containing a piece of Voldemort's soul. (Warning: For those who want to see the film spoiler-free, this clip is not for you.)"
Other behind-the-scenes featurettes were available at io9, "including a new look for Bellatrix Lestrange."
Movie Trailers: War Horse; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
DreamWorks Pictures released a trailer for Steven Spielberg's War Horse, the movie version of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 YA novel that was also adapted into a stage play, using puppet horses. Entertainment Weekly observed that the "first impression of Spielberg's teaser trailer for the movie (out December 28) is simply: God, that's gorgeous--which is jarring since the opening shot is of a vast landscape reduced to a cinder as the title character, a farm horse named Joey, frantically gallops for its life, just inches ahead of the mortars."
A trailer has also been released for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, director Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of the John le Carré novel. New York magazine described the new film version this way: "Dashing British men, including Colin Firth and Tom Hardy, conduct espionage--travel the world, use guns, stand in shadows--while Gary Oldman, who has the lead role as George Smiley, tries to identify the mole (who totally doesn't wear a top hat and a little red jacket and have the skills to get shot out of a cannon), all while menacing violins ratchet up the tension."
Books & Authors
Awards: Inspirational Reader's Choice Winners
The winners of the 2011 Inspirational Reader's Choice Awards, sponsored by the Faith, Hope and Love chapter of the Romance Writers of America, are:
Long Contemporary: Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes (Tyndale)
Short Contemporary: White Roses by Shannon Taylor Vannatter (Barbour--Heartsong Presents)
Long Historical: The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House)
Short Historical: A Matter of Character by Robin Lee Hatcher (Zondervan)
Women's Fiction: Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman (Thomas Nelson)
Romantic Suspense: Too Close to Home by Lynette Eason (Revell)
Novella: Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Anita Higman (Summerside)
Summer Drive: Cross-Country Beetle Book Tour
Christopher Boucher will promote his debut novel, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, which Melville House will publish in August, by driving a 1972 VW Beetle from Los Angeles to Boston, an estimated 4,318 miles, making stops at bookstores and anywhere else he can meet booklovers--"bars, bowling alleys, basements and BBQs." He is taking requests and suggestions for stops during his August trek. "What's the best breakfast in Winnemucca, Nev.?" he asked. "Want Boucher to visit your book club in Manhattan, Kans.? Should he take a detour to Kokomo, Ind.?"
Check out his blog, VWALIVE.com, or e-mail him at Christopher@vwalive.com. A map with his tour stops so far, including the King's English, Tattered Cover, Prairie Lights, Subterranean Books, Joseph-Beth and WORD, is available here. Boucher will send dispatches from the road to Shelf Awareness.
"I see this tour as a natural extension of the book," Boucher said. "The novel was written in a whimsical, playful style, but it was inspired by my own experiences--namely, my close relationship with my father, and the sense of wonder that he instilled in me. That sense of wonder propelled every sentence in the book, and I want it to fuel the tour as well."
Book Brahmin: Dave Roman
Writer/illustrator Dave Roman's new book is Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (First Second, June 2011), the story of a kid superhero who needs a place to hide out while his super-villain nemesis is after him--and finds it in an elite middle school in outer space. It is officially the shiniest book you will read all year.
Book Review: A Good Hard Look
Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano (Penguin Press, $25.95 Hardcover, 9781594202926, July 7, 2011)
Flannery O'Connor is an endlessly interesting person whose life in Milledgeville, Ga., was circumscribed by chronic illness, yet was also one of keen observation and insight, informed by her strong Catholic faith.
Ann Napolitano (Within Arm's Reach) has created a series of characters with Flannery as their unwitting centerpiece. She writes, watches over her peacocks, ducks and other birds, spars with her mother and struggles with lupus. She has an abrasive personality, an acid tongue and no time for pretense. Because of these traits, lived out loud, some of her neighbors, nothing-but-polite-pretense Southerners, are forced to look at the progress of their own lives--and often find them wanting. They are also of two minds about her: proud of her accomplishments and dreading finding themselves on the page.
Prom queen Cookie Himmel returns to Milledgeville from two years in New York with a wealthy fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. She marries him, settles in to create the perfect home and has the perfect baby girl. Melvin, meanwhile, is drawn to Flannery, whom Cookie hates for reasons never really clear; in this regard, the author's cryptic style is annoying. Melvin gives her driving lessons and lies to his wife about it. He's fascinated by Flannery's peacocks, but what he enjoys most is being himself around her, when he feels that every other interaction is inauthentic. There is nothing improper about the friendship, except that he can't own up to it to his wife. When he critiques Flannery's stories by saying that she writes no happy endings, she replies: "I'm sure you didn't consider this... but it's possible that the characters are closer to grace at the end of the stories. Grace changes a person, you know. And change is painful." Much of the import of the novel is contained in that sentence.
Lona, a seamstress hired by Cookie, is married to a cop in an utterly soulless match. She falls in love with a young boy, and the change wrought in her brings several worlds crashing down. On the same afternoon, a tragic and hideous accident takes place at Flannery's that changes the lives of several people.
Flannery O'Connor was forced by illness to leave New York and return to Andalusia, the family farm, to live out her days. Dead at 39, she never realized the life she had anticipated. Instead of being bitter, she was occasionally saddened, but was buoyed by her faith and her writing. Her experience gave her an edge, an incisive quality that did not suffer fools gladly. There are plenty of fools to go around in Napolitano's book--but there is also realization, reconciliation and hope. --Valerie Ryan
Shelf Talker: Flannery O'Connor, peacocks, Southern discomfort and tragedy on a grand scale converge in this gothic tale of change laced with grace.
Robert Gray: Independence, Fireworks & Books
As we begin Fourth of July weekend, we are smack in the middle of Independents Week, the annual effort sponsored by the American Independent Business Alliance to showcase the importance of indies and buying local.
"According to our latest survey of AMIBA affiliate groups, 94% plan to participate in Indie Week 2011," Jennifer Rockne, the organization's director, told Bookselling This Week. She said the celebration is "such a positive and visible vehicle for bringing citizens in touch with local businesses [that] it’s been embraced as an event folks just mark on their calendar every year as routine."
AMIBA's effort is a timely reminder that independence is an ongoing campaign. Every day in this publication, we showcase the rewards and perils of living the independent life in our industry, not to mention our interdependence. "Independent" is a complicated word, even for word people. A good word, nonetheless.
And independence always has a price. Most of us are willing to pay it, even if--as inevitably happens when creativity, competition and money come together--there are occasional verbal fireworks, ignited by heated panel discussions at conferences or (less publicly but perhaps more importantly) in frank private conversations and negotiations every day.
I live on a hill above a beautiful valley in upstate New York. Each night during this Fourth of July weekend, I'll be treated to a light show above the treetops as fireworks are launched incessantly at official and unofficial gatherings. In backyards and on the streets, firecrackers will sound their celebratory rat-tat-tat, which still makes me jump.
I appreciate the "rockets red glare" heritage of this summer holiday tradition, however fuzzy the historical details may get. The thought has also kindled (note sneaky book biz reference) a memory of when I was a kid and fireworks were banned in the state where I lived. Sure there were sanctioned public events at fairgrounds or ballparks, but nothing ever compared to the thrill of lighting up a string of illicit firecrackers yourself, especially for a kid who wasn't even supposed to have matches in his possession.
How did we circumvent this prohibition? I learned early in life that there's often a solution if you adapt to your circumstances. We always had a few friends whose families made annual winter trips to Florida. There were wondrous states down south that sold fireworks legally, and we would give our buddies a shopping list. Come Fourth of July weekend, we were armed and dangerous (if only to ourselves). We were independent and dependent. Can't have one without the other.
I'm also thinking again of Henry Knox, as I do every Independence Day. In 1774, the Boston bookseller was facing a boycott on British goods (which comprised most his inventory). In the book Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution, Mark Puls writes that "despite the prospect of ruining his business, Knox spearheaded an 'anti-consumption' league to help enforce the boycott."
In November of that year, Knox wrote to Thomas Longman, his book distributor in London, and said he would be unable to pay for books he had in stock. Asking Longman to lobby for Colonial interests, he noted: "I cannot but hope every person who is concerned in American trade will most strenuously exert themselves, in their respective stations, for what so nearly concerns themselves."
During the winter of 1776, Knox executed one of the great military maneuvers of the Revolution. General Washington dispatched him to organize transport of more than 50 captured artillery pieces 300 miles over rough terrain, from forts on Lake Champlain to the heights overlooking Boston. His feat was accomplished against stern odds and became one of the turning points of the war.
I will never be a bookselling hero like Henry Knox. Paying another kid to smuggle fireworks north in 1963 just doesn’t make the grade. But to all of you who continue to find innovative ways of adapting (as well as being dependable allies of your fellow "independents") in a revolutionary time for books, I offer wishes for a happy and star-spangled Fourth. And remember, there are plenty of fireworks in those beach reads, too, if you pick the right books.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)