Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 30, 2009
Quotation of the Day
Indie Booksellers 'Support and Sustain' Indie Writers
"Thank you to all the independent booksellers who support and sustain us as independent writers with independent voices. We would not have a voice without yours. I am deeply grateful for the vision, sacrifices, and hard work that are at the heart of what you do, day after day. May we recognize the synergetic relationship that is ours to cultivate together."--Author Terry Tempest Williams in an interview with Bookselling This Week.
Notes: Amazon Numbers; Cool Bookseller Blues
In the quarter ending December 31, net sales at Amazon.com increased 18% to $6.7 billion, and net income rose 9% to $225 million.
"But in a sign that Amazon was not immune to the recession, its operating margins fell to 4.06% from 4.78%, a result of heavy discounting to persuade reluctant shoppers to buy," the New York Times reported. "Amazon offered a broad estimate for the current quarter and did not make any estimate for the year, as it normally had. It said it expected operating income of as much as $210 million, a 19% increase over the first quarter of 2008. At its most pessimistic, the forecast was for a 9% increase."
Sales of media, which includes books, rose 9% to $3.64 billion. The Times also noted that while Amazon released no new statistics on Kindle sales, a news conference is scheduled in New York on February 9 to introduce a new version of the electronic reading device.
Cool Blues Idea of the Day: Joe Neri, owner of the Well Red Coyote bookstore, Sedona, Ariz., can also often be found performing on guitar and vocals with his contemporary electric blues band, Blues Dawg. Sedona.biz featured a photograph of the group with an announcement of their upcoming gig at the Old Town Center for the Arts in Cottonwood.
The piece noted that "Blues Dawg was founded by Neri in the mid-90s in Los Angeles, playing all of the Southern California venues and recording two studio and three live albums. After moving to Sedona in early 2005, he re-formed the band, keeping the same basic sound of covers and original blues."
Carol Valera Jacobson, owner of Downtown Books, Craig, Colo., was honored with a 2009 Celebrate Literacy Award by the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association, according to the Daily Press.
"My first response was, 'They didn’t have anyone else to pick.' Then I decided I was just going to go there, be grateful and say thank you," said Jacobson, who opened her bookshop in 2006 and expanded it a year later. "I thought, and still think, that a town without a bookstore is a very sad community. It wasn’t enough to be a store owner. I wanted to encourage people to read, and think, and grow, and all that jazz."
Timeless Treasures Books and Gifts, Denver, Colo., was described by La Voz Nueva as "a little bookstore with a great big heart" in an article about the bookshop, owned by Reba and Eddy Yepes, that opened a little more than a year ago.
"I told Eddy I want to open up a children’s bookstore," said Reba. "I would like to open one in the community where people can come and relax and I can read to kids and we can sell books at a reduced rate. . . . First thing, I went to the Head Starts and said I’m here. I would really be thrilled if you guys would take field trips and come to storytime with me and so I’ve had five Head Starts come in. . . . They love hearing stories and if I can inspire them to read, if I can put books in kids’ hands, in adults’ hands and help them--that’s what I want to do."
It may be hard to conjure thoughts of spring in the depths of January, but Troubadour Books, Boulder, Colo., is preparing for its second annual Sage Community Partnership/Troubadour Bookstore Boulder County Youth Poetry Competition to celebrate Poetry Month.
Troubadour's owner Deb Evans told Bookselling this Week that the event was inspired by desire to "encourage some of the at-risk youth in the community to bring their writing to a public forum. . . . Last year, we had what we thought was a pretty good response--about 160 entries from 58 contestants. It was great. This year we're hoping to get more. I try to promote the store by sponsoring performances and auctions for a few small local dance schools, youth orchestras, and so on."
"If you come to the bookstore most nights, you can get an idea of what a revolutionary society is going to look like," said Travis Morales, manager of Revolution Books/Libros Revolución, in a New York Press profile of the Chelsea bookshop that "has a proud and unambiguous agenda: the replacement of the political and economic system that currently dominates the world--i.e., America's--with transnational communism."
Scottish bookseller Jayne Ramage "is urging customers to beat the biting recession and escape the worries of the economy by spending the day in bed with a good book," Deadline Scotland reported. Ramage, who owns Watermill Bookshop, Aberfeldy, staged a "24 hour bed-in" at her bookstore recently, during which she "spent the whole day in bed with a succession of escapist, inspiring and uplifting books. Her novel day off was complete with cups of tea, biscuits, a cat at the end of the bed, a telephone off the hook, lots of fluffy pillows and a warm duvet and, of course, a pile of books to fill 24 hours."
Customer Douglas Craig was pleasantly surprised. "It's very unusual to see someone in bed when you pop into a book shop," he said, "but after a chat with Jayne it all makes so much more sense. I think it's a wonderful idea, as anything that gets people to read more can only be beneficial. She's an inspiration for people to keep on reading, and enjoying, books."
Bargain Book News interviewed Jeff Press, founder of World Publications, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Asked about his overriding business philosophy, Press advised, "Tell the truth! Plenty of business means plenty of problems. Even with the best intentions lots of things are going to go wrong. You don't need to complicate things with stories and lies. One thing my wife has always said, 'Without good relationships in this business, you have nothing.'"
Academic publishers "are holding their breath about 2009," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported that in the midst of the economic downturn, university presses must contend with a number of problems, including "low sales, high numbers of books returned [and] operating subsidies threatened by state and university budget cuts."
"The general feeling of uncertainty, I think, is as troublesome as anything," said Peter J. Dougherty, director of Princeton University Press. "In a normal year, you can make some predictions with some confidence based on how things have gone. This year it's a very, very difficult game to play."
Pennie Picks Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has picked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Ballantine, $24, 9780345505330/0345505336) as her pick of the month for February. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:
"Sometimes it's good to think beyond traditional male-female interactions as love stories. The father-son relationship in [this book] is as moving and powerful a love story as one can hope to find.
"This is an unforgettable debut novel that transports readers effortlessly to 1940s Seattle, where the city's jazz scene is blossoming and the once compatible Japanese and Chinese communities are now at odds. Examining the complex and timeless struggles of friendships, a father-son relationship and true love, this is a complete novel that will not disappoint."
Media and Movies
Media Heat: The Bitter Road to Freedom
Tonight on ABC News Nightline: Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities (Picador, $16, 9780312427573/0312427573), who will discuss Wall Street's "masters of the universe."
Tomorrow on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me: Carrie Fisher, author of Wishful Drinking (Simon & Schuster, $21, 9781439102251/1439102252).
Sunday on Weekend Edition: William Hitchcock, author of The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of Liberation of Europe (Free Press, $28, 9780743273817/0743273818).
Movies: Jordan to Direct The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman's Newbery award-winning The Graveyard Book will be adapted by Neil Jordan, who will direct the film. Variety reported that Gaiman, who is curently promoting an animated version of Coraline, will produce the movie, which will be shot as a live-action feature. Jordan's previous films include The Crying Game and The End of the Affair, which he adapted from the novel by Graham Greene.
Books & Authors
Book Brahmin: Ilana Stanger-Ross
Ilana Stanger-Ross grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. She holds an undergraduate degree from Barnard College and an M.F.A. from Temple University and is currently a student midwife at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine. She has received several prizes for her fiction, including a Timothy Findley Fellowship, and her work has been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Lilith magazine, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus magazine, among others. Her new novel, Sima's Undergarments for Women, is a February Overlook Press publication.
On your nightstand now:
I covet a nightstand. But on the floor between my bed and my bedroom door is a more or less upright stack of books, including John Updike's Pigeon Feathers, Tony Horowitz's A Voyage Long and Strange, Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and Maureen Freeley's Enlightenment. I read a few of the Updike stories while watching my daughters in the bath the other night, and they're incredibly rich and almost unbearably sad. The others are all still in the good-intention stage.
Favorite book when you were a child:
If I'm Lost, How Come I Found You? by Walter Olesky. It's hard to pick one favorite, but that was the first chapter book I read on my own. It was a Christmas gift from my second grade teacher--we all were given one book to read over the holidays, and I chose that one out of the grab-bag. I loved it. I no longer remember the plot other than it involved a lost child and some heartwarming adventures, but I do remember the enormous sense of pride in reading a chapter book entirely on my own.
Book you've faked reading:
Oh, I don't fake. But I have perhaps let on that I liked certain experimental books more than I did. Barthes comes to mind. Also Moby Dick--I skipped the whaling detail parts.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen. If you haven't read it--go read it right now. Now. It's a slim novella--you can be through it in an hour, easy, though you'll want to sit and savor it if you can. There's an Alice Walker blurb on my paperback edition. She writes, "Every time I read Tell Me a Riddle it breaks my heart." I can't say it better.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Vox by Nicholas Baker. I was in seventh grade and found myself drawn to the hot-pink cover. Or maybe that's just the excuse I gave myself after devouring the first few pages in the chain bookstore near my junior high. Pretty shocking material for a seventh grader--the hot pink meant something on that one.
Book that changed your life:
Our Bodies, Our Selves by the Boston Women's Health Collective. As a 13-year-old at summer camp, I pored over it along with all the other pre-teen campers. It was my first introduction to women-centered care, healthy sexuality, queer-positive thinking, etc. I'm currently studying to be a midwife, and I can trace my interest in women's health at least in part back to those bunk bed study sessions.
Favorite line from a book:
In To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Ramsay is trying to remember a poem. And the line she remembers, which apparently comes from a poem written by a not particularly well-regarded poet Woolf knew, is "And all the lives we ever lived, and all the lives to be, are full of trees and changing leaves." Isn't that lovely and true? I first read To The Lighthouse in high school, and that little rhyme has stayed with me. (Though, like Mrs. Ramsay herself, I am forever doomed to not remember the rest of the poem.)
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. I read it over a few days while sitting in a rocking chair in our Toronto apartment, my then-infant daughter Eva asleep across my lap. I loved the novel and couldn't put it down, but more than just the wonder of that story I want to revisit the moments during which I read it: winter outside, warm inside, my first baby (now four) asleep against me, and nothing to do but rock and read the most wonderful adventure.
Book Review: A Comrade Lost and Found
A Comrade Lost and Found: A Beijing Story by Jan Wong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $25.00 Hardcover, 9780151013425, February 2009)
Jan Wong arrived at Beijing University from Canada in 1972 to improve her rudimentary Mandarin language skills. "I was different. I wasn't a Chinese citizen. I was just a stupid wannabe Maoist from Montreal, trying to prove I was as stalwart and tough as the next guy," she writes with brutal honesty. "When I was young, I believed that ideology trumped everything."
Apt as we all are to make youthful mistakes that continue to send shivers of shame through us for the rest of our lives, Wong did so in spades--she ratted on fellow student Yin Luoyi who asked about getting to the West (when such a desire was anathema). Betrayal of one's family and friends was encouraged and not unusual during Mao's Cultural Revolution, but Wong as an outsider was unaware then that reported dissidents could suffer more than wrist-slaps and public humiliations; she later realized that her actions and naïveté may have caused grievous harm to Yin.
Soon after turning in her comrade, she left China to resume studies at McGill University in Montreal, a less-fraught academic setting for true learning; eventually the young aspiring-Maoist became a financial journalist and reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, the role in which she would return to China in 1988. Although Wong was the newspaper's Beijing reporter from 1988 to 1994, she didn't pursue the question of what happened to Yin during that time because she was in denial about the incident. In that denial, she was no different from many others in China following Mao's death in 1976--people wanted to forget the decade between 1966 and 1976 (and their complicity in its horrors) when one million Chinese died unnatural deaths.
During a month-long visit to Beijing in 2006 with her husband and teenage sons, Wong was ready to begin her search in earnest. She may have been greeted at every shop with a traditional "Welcome your approaching luminous presence," but China had changed greatly since 1994: much of the Beijing she knew had been bulldozed to prepare for the 2008 Olympics; ex-Maoists were now most concerned about real estate holdings and bidets.
In encounters with old and new friends, previously chatty people went silent when Wong asked too many questions about the Cultural Revolution years. Entire decades of university records had "evaporated" so that tracking down Yin became that much harder. The many frustrations and dead ends in combing through such a radically changed landscape become a central part of the story, and Wong's intrepid and lively investigation anchors a memoir of Beijing and Chinese politics that reveals contemporary China in all its complexity.--John McFarland
Shelf Talker: A Comrade Lost and Found is a must-read memoir of life in Beijing over 30 years that is, by turns, entrancing, provocative, funny and mortifying.