Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 15, 2010

S&S / Marysue Rucci Books: The Night We Lost Him by Laura Dave

Wednesday Books: When Haru Was Here by Dustin Thao

Tommy Nelson: Up Toward the Light by Granger Smith, Illustrated by Laura Watkins

Tor Nightfire: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton

Shadow Mountain: Highcliffe House (Proper Romance Regency) by Megan Walker

Quotation of the Day

Greenlight Bookstore: Happy First Birthday

"A year ago today, it seemed like the bookstore might never get open. Mountains of boxes filled with books were piled in the middle of the floor, paint and plaster dust filled the air, the shelves and cash desk were still being sanded and stained, and forget about having computers up and running. And yet, on the evening of October 16, a Fort Greene neighbor bought a book from us--and suddenly, Greenlight was real."

--From this week's Greenlight Bookstore e-newsletter.


BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!


The Novel: Live! Soon to Be an E-Book!

The Novel: Live!, written by 36 writers in public at the Hugo House in Seattle in 12-hour-a-day writing sessions that began on Monday and end tomorrow, will be published as an e-book in the spring by Open Road Integrated Media.

Besides the 60,000-word text--plus some black-and-white line drawings--the e-book will incorporate material showing some of the writing sessions, interviews with authors, reactions from the audience and background information. (That material will be separate from the text, much like bookends.) The Novel: Live! will have a foreword by Nancy Pearl and be available on a full range of e-platforms, from Kindle to Kobo, from Overdrive to Barnes & Noble. The MS will be edited.

Rachel Chou, Open Road's chief marketing officer, who has been on location in Seattle with a film crew, called the project "the right match for us. It's a very creative, ambitious, innovative project and the audience will want to see this soon." She added the goal of Open Road "is to connect authors with readers and that is exactly what is happening at The Novel: Live!"

Garth Stein, one of the organizers of The Novel: Live!, whose proceeds go to Seattle7Writers grants to literacy programs in the Pacific Northwest, said the e-book is "a cool way to reach out to a larger audience. It furthers our objectives."

Stein emphasized, too, that the e-book should capture the fun of the event. "Everybody's having a great time," he said. "All the writers are coming off the stage with big grins. There's a real sense of camaraderie--and a little competition!"

Erik Larson was equally enthusiastic, saying, "I think The Novel: Live! is an amazing coming together of energy, talent and creativity. It's absolutely unprecedented, and such a cool idea to do it live and engage both the writing and reading communities."

Stein, Larson and Open Road noted that the 36 authors have their own social networks and fan networks and will be able to promote the book widely. "That's why we thought about Open Road," Stein said. "Because of their abilities with Internet marketing and their progressive approach." Fans will be able to stay current with the whole process on Twitter and via the book's Facebook page. The project also has its own website,

Shelf Awareness has done two reports from the marathon, which, besides Stein and Larson, features authors Jennie Shortridge, Jamie Ford, Elizabeth George, Kevin O'Brien and Nancy Rawles and others. Check them out here and here.

GLOW: Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura: Wild Life: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Living Wonders by Cara Giaimo, Joshua Foer, and Atlas Obscura

AAP Sales: E-Book Evalanche

In August, net sales of books rose 3.4%, to $1.6 billion, at 88 publishers who reported sales to the Association of American Publishers. Net sales for the year rose 6.9%, to $7.3 billion.

E-book sales continued to soar, rising 172.4%, to $39 million, in August. For the year to date, e-book sales are up 193%, to $263 million, representing 9.03% of total consumer book sales, compared to 3.31% for all of 2009.






$39 million


University press paperbacks

$10.1 million


Professional books

$102.7 million


Higher education

$969.7 million


University press hardcovers

$6.1 million  


Downloaded audiobooks

$6.3 million





Religious books

$58.1 million


K-12 /El-Hi

$629.6 million


Children's/YA hardcover

$77.8 million


Children's/YA paperback

$58.9 million


Adult paperback

$124.9 million


Adult mass market

$54.9 million


Physical audiobooks

$9.9 million


Adult hardcover

$83.8 million




Weldon Owen: The Gay Icon's Guide to Life by Michael Joosten, Illustrated by Peter Emerich

Notes: Flintridge Readies to Move; Another Rockin' Bookseller

Flintridge Bookstore & Coffee House, La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., whose building was damaged by a truck last year, will be moving into a new, larger location early next year, according to Bookselling This Week.

Owner Peter Wannier said that when he opened the store in 2007, he had been planning to move to the new site when the building was completed. Wannier plans to have an Espresso Book Machine in the new location, which is across from the La Cañada Community Center.


The second installment of Algonquin's Booksellers Rock!, which, in q&a form, profiles independent booksellers, stars Lanora Hurley, owner of the Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, Wis. Among her many great answers is one of several to the question of "what you won't find at any other store":

"We have this ugly beat-up chair on wheels with gaudy flowered upholstery that we refuse to get rid of because it's Rosemary's favorite chair, and Rosemary has been buying books at this location since before I graduated from college."

"Bring a bunch of writers together, like last week's Litquake festival did in San Francisco, and you'll hear plenty of gloomy prognostications about the future of the book," the Chronicle observed, while noting that Dave Eggers added an upbeat take to the proceedings.

"I'm optimistic about the future of books, both as an author and a publisher," he said. "There is a perception in the publishing industry that today's kids aren't that interested in books, or that they'll be reading only electronically. But most kids under 18 have already read five to six thousand pages of book text between Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket and Twilight. Youth reading, in many ways, is at an all-time high."


Congratulations to Diane's Books, Greenwich, Conn., which is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Sunday, October 31, from noon to 4 p.m., with book characters, authors and, for children, craft activities and face painting. Refreshments will be served. The store was founded November 3, 1990.

Diane's Books has also been celebrating its anniversary by holding a monthly "20th day" raffle that continues into November. On the raffle ticket, customers describe their favorite "Diane's moment." Some entrants have remembered coming into the store as a child and learning to read with a book that owner Diane Garrett picked out for them. Raffle winners receive a free book.


Bookselling This Week noted other bookstore anniversaries:

Trappe Book Center, Collegeview, Pa., which marks its 20th birthday on November 8. The store, which began as a Little Professor, is growing to 8,000 from 5,500 square feet in February. The owners are P.K. Sindwani and his wife, Indira.

Bank Street Books, New York City, which has been celebrating 40 years in business with events during the past month. Owned by the Bank Street College of Education, the store began in the lobby of the college, mainly selling textbooks.


And on the occasion of the 25th birthday of Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, La Verne, Calif., the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin talked with Mrs. Nelson herself--Judy Nelson--who is now retired but whose family still owns and operates the store.

The store's main anniversary party will be held this Sunday at 2 p.m. and features Laura Numeroff, author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Cake but no mouse or cookie is promised.


Fire Petal Books, Centerville, Utah, opened in August, but "getting a regular flow of customers coming in to help keep the store in business has been a challenge. So has paying the rent," the Standard-Examiner reported. The bookshop has launched an online effort to raise awareness and funds.

"A lot of people are shopping at these big stores that sell books for less, but because we are a small business, we aren't really able to do that," said owner Michelle Witte, adding, "If you are buying locally you are supporting the economy in your area. There are a lot of independent businesses that really need help from their community."


William Fotheringham, the Guardian's cycling columnist and author of Cyclopedia: It's All About the Bike, recommended his top 10 cycling novels: "The criteria I imposed were deliberately restrictive: the novel has to be centered on the act of cycling, rather than merely including bike riding as a means of transport or in background description. Sadly, this eliminated the short passage in The Sun Also Rises in which Hemingway describes the riders in the Tour of the Basque country, and on the same count I ruled out Alfred Jarry's chapter on cyclists involved in a perpetual motion race in The Supermale."


Next week, an enhanced app version of Bram Stoker's classic novel will be available for the iPad. USA Today reported that Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition "is a Halloween surprise that mixes words, music and video-game-like features.... In addition to nearly all of the original novel (about 300 pages), the cutting-edge application contains interactive versions of journals, notes and maps. Also hidden in the application: the entire 1922 film Nosferatu, an unauthorized film version of the Dracula story directed by F.W. Murnau, and an Orson Welles radio adaptation, as well as Stoker's death certificate (added after the family approved of the product). Beyond the mood music, the enhanced book app has 21 independent rock songs that complement chapters, a move 'to appeal to the Twilight, True Blood and Vampire Diaries generation,' [Padworx Digital Media's Jeffrey] Schechter says."


Twilight of an era. For the first time since July 12, 2007, none of Stephenie Meyer's novels are among the top 50 on USA Today's bestseller list.


As reported by CNet, the latest version of Amazon's iPhone app allows users to take a picture of a book's bar code. Amazon then finds a match, and if owners want, they can immediately buy the book.

Mobylives tartly observed that with the feature, "Amazon has just made it easier for its faithful followers to rip off brick and mortar bookstores."


On E-Reads, Richard Curtis recounted how a marketing move--giving away a sampler with the opening chapters of the first three books in M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist series in New York City--had an unexpected bounce. Kevin Tucker, a gregarious shoe shine man at Grand Central Terminal, saw the samplers being handed out on the street and took a pile of the books to give to his own customers. As he told Curtis: "I said to them, 'Why don't you give me a bunch and I'll give them to my customers. That will be good for your business and mine at the same time.' "


For fans of Dewey the Library Cat and Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, Penguin has set up a sunny spot on its website where readers can share cat photos. Check it out here.


Book (ink) trailer of the day: How Ink Is Made, from the PrintingInkCompany.


Tumblr show of the day: Everything You Know Is Pong: How Mighty Table Tennis Shapes Our World by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz (It Books), whose many contributors include Howard Jacobson, who just won the Booker Prize for The Finkler Question.


PEN American Center, Dr. Edward O. Wilson and Harrison Ford are creating a new award, the annual PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing, which will "acknowledge new and compelling literary writing about the physical and biological sciences." The first award will be given next fall. The winner receives $10,000. Wilson and Ford have provided funding for the first three years.

Examples of the kind of books that would have won the award in the past: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Dr. James Watson's The Double Helix, Lewis Thomas's The Lives of a Cell, Christian de Duve's Guided Tour of the Living Cell and Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

Wilson is a scientist, naturalist and writer--and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for general nonfiction. In addition to being an actor, Ford is an advisory board member of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and vice chair for Conservation International.


Graphic Universe (Tm): Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit by Josh Hicks

Image of the Day: Under the Influence

At the launch party for Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide (Abrams Image), comedian Andy Milonakis (l.) joined authors Shirley Halperin and Steve Bloom. The event was held at Space 1520 in Los Angeles. The book has more than 420 film entries, as well as contributions from Milonakis and other notables, including Cheech and Chong, Snoop Dogg and Doug Benson.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Dinaw Mengestu on Weekend Edition

Tomorrow on Weekend Edition: Dinaw Mengestu, author of How to Read the Air (Riverhead Books, $25.95, 9781594487705/1594487707).


Television: Romeo & Juliet

ABC is "picking up for development" a retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) is in talks to direct the pilot in what would be her television directorial debut," reported.

Movies: The Snowman

Working Title Films acquired screen rights to Jo Nesbo's novel The Snowman, the "latest in a bestselling detective series that has sold more than five million copies worldwide. The book is currently at the top of the U.K. bestseller lists and will be published by Knopf in the U.S. next spring," reported.  

"I'm very excited and a little worried," said Nesbo. "I've turned down offers for making movies about Harry Hole for so many years, so for me this is like putting my baby on the bus to the big city for the first time. But it feels like she's ready for that now and I am really glad that she is going to be with a quality producer."





Books & Authors

Awards: Wilson Prize Winner

Dundurn Press won the inaugural $10,000 (US$9,947) Wilson Prize for Publishing Canadian History, presented by the Wilson Institute at McMaster University, Quillblog reported, noting that the publisher "has full discretion as to how they might use the award as long as it visibly goes toward the publication of high quality works in Canadian history."



Book Brahmin: Dinaw Mengestu

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980, he left Ethiopia for the United States with his mother and sister to join his father, who had fled two years earlier during the communist revolution known as the Red Terror. He lived in Peoria, Ill., and later Chicago, before graduating from Georgetown University and Columbia University's MFA Program in Fiction. The New Yorker selected Mengestu as one of its "20 under 40" fiction writers in 2010. He is the recipient of a Fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, as well as many other awards. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Harper's, Granta and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. His multiple prize-winning debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, was published to worldwide acclaim in 2007. Mengestu's second novel, How to Read the Air, was published by Riverhead Books yesterday, October 14. He lives with his wife and sons in Paris.


On your nightstand now:

Right now: The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels, The End by Salvatore Scibona, Meeks by Julia Holmes, The Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide by Linda Melvern

Favorite book when you were a child:

It would have to depend on what counts as being a childhood. Early on I would probably have to say The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.

Your top five authors:

Top five that come to mind, I would have to say: Edward P. Jones, Saul Bellows, Virginia Woolf, V.S. Naipaul, Marilynne Robinson.

Book you've faked reading:

More like the book I've faked finishing: Anna Karenina. I misplaced the copy I was reading somewhere near the last 150 pages or so and all these years later, have to yet to finish it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Edward P. Jones's The Known World, although the book doesn't really need any more evangelists; it's just a stunning work of art.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw.

Book that changed your life:

I think most of the books I've loved have changed my life--they haunt me and have become a part of how I see and interpret the world. If I had to choose one that I've returned to frequently recently, it would be Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

Favorite line from a book:

"Indeed--why should I not admit it?--at that moment, my heart was breaking."--from Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

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

I've reread the book numerous times already, but still I imagine it would be wonderful to go back to A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul and see it for the first time.



Book Review

Book Review: How to Read the Air

How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu (Riverhead Books, $25.95 Hardcover, 9781594487705, October 2010)

Recently named one of the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers to watch, Dinaw Mengestu garnered an impressive collection of awards and critical accolades for his first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), including the Guardian First Book Prize and a National Book Foundation Award. The delicately constructed How to Read the Air--a quiet but resonant study of identity, place and marriage--is an excellent second novel, sure to solidify his reputation as a talented and important new writer.

Mengestu's deceptively simple storyline provides the perfect vehicle for the author to explore complicated themes of dislocation, alienation and perhaps most important, whether or not there exists an objective or quantifiable truth in human actions and relationships. The narrator is Jonas Woldemarian, who, much like the author, is the Illinois-raised son of Ethiopian immigrant parents. A few months before his birth, Jonas's parents, Yosef and Mariam, took an ill-fated road trip/honeymoon from Peoria to Nashville. Jonas's imagined reinvention of this trip forms one narrative thread. The slow disintegration of Jonas's own marriage (to Angela, whom he'd met when both were working at a refugee resettlement center in Manhattan) first parallels and then joins that thread when Jonas decides to leave Angela and his teaching job and retrace his parents' journey in an effort to understand himself better and become a happier person.

The marriage of Yosef and Mariam, Jonas explains, was doomed from the start. Begun in war-torn Ethiopia, their relationship couldn't survive the relative tranquility of their new home and neither one was ever able to fully adopt or adapt to the culture they found in America. It is Yosef who knows "how to read the air," detecting electrical changes in the atmosphere before violence occurs. Ironically, it is Yosef who perpetrates the violence here, regularly beating Mariam--so forcefully at the beginning of their journey that she loses consciousness. Thirty years later, it is not violence that afflicts Jonas's marriage, but his inability to reveal his true self; an emotional stuntedness that causes him to fictionalize his life (he lies often and with great ease) and retreat from his wife. Eventually all the Woldemarians become estranged--from each other and from themselves.

Mengestu's language is beautiful--clear, evocative, and rhythmic--and each one of his characters is deeply realized. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment with this novel, however, is how he layers deception and truth within the narrative, building to a conclusion that feels inevitable even as it surprises.--Debra Ginsberg

Shelf Talker: A beautifully crafted novel from prize-winning Dinaw Mengestu that follows the complicated relationships of two generations of Ethiopian immigrants in America.



Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: The Optimistic Stochastics of Indie Publishing

"My belief, as much as I have one, is in a certain optimistic stochastics as the main force in the universe," Sergei Prigarin, a professor of mathematics at Novosibirsk State University, told Ian Frazier, who recounts their meeting in his new book Travels in Siberia.

Yes, optimistic stochastics is my new favorite phrase, and I will happily butcher it now for my own purposes. Horrified lexicographers are invited to register their complaints here. The Bloomsbury Thesaurus offers a bouquet of synonyms for stochastics, including probabilities, aleatorics, statistics, doctrine of chance, actuarial calculation, insurance, assurance, underwriting, risk-taking, speculation.
All publishers, of course, focus daily upon probabilities, risk-taking and speculation. It's part of the job description. But lately I've been thinking about indie presses and the challenge inherent in producing quality, professional work on a limited budget. This has in turn led me to wonder what our precise definition of an "independent publisher" is now at a time when self-publishing, e-books, POD and an ever-increasing number of other options are available for almost anyone to publish--or at least print--books.

Last month, at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Denver, a panel--Independent Publishers & Independent Booksellers, Can We Talk?--ignited some verbal fireworks. The panelists may not have been looking specifically for a new definition of indie publishing, but as I recall the conversations I had during that show and since then, I realize that we may need to revise our industry's lexicon. With so many books in play from so many sources, maybe we, the word people, have run out of words to adequately define certain segments of the business? Maybe we need some new words.

During Saturday's MPIBA Writers & the Independent Marketplace conference, the opening panel--Getting Your Book into Print--wrestled with another pertinent question and more changing terminology: What does it mean to be a "published author" in the 21st century?

Having talked about all this with book people for nearly a month, I thought it was time to open up the discussion here. You have your own questions and opinions. You already know the subject is complex. You also know that for every rule there is an exception that will drive you nuts. How can we go wrong?

I don't have to tell you how many books are being published this year and the impact those numbers have. Whether or not you believe too many books are in play, it is hard to deny that sorting them out and panning for book gold without being overwhelmed is a challenge for all of us.

If you're a bookseller, you face a multitude of authors--self-published or independently published or traditionally published--approaching you in the store or by e-mail or post or phone and asking if you will stock their books or host an event. How do you handle that conversation?

If you're an author, someone--your publisher or yourself--has chosen to roll the dice and your manuscript is now a published book. How do you get your work out into this crowded world? When you approach indie booksellers, how do you handle that conversation?

If you're an independent publisher, how do you distinguish your list from the hundreds of other publishers and tens of thousands of books hitting the market annually?

If, by chance, you're a reader (those extraordinary human beings who regularly choose to spend money on new books without even knowing who published them), you may not care about any of this. We won't make you answer questions. Just keep doing what you're doing.

Earlier this week, I had dinner and a great conversation about indie publishing with Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany N.Y.; and Peter Golden, the author of five nonfiction books whose first novel, Comeback Love, will be released next month by Susan's new publishing venture, Staff Picks Press (Shelf Awareness, May 24, 2010).

Susan is also co-owner of the POD service Troy Book Makers, so she has thought about this issue from multiple perspectives, invested her time and money in the process and can legitimately stake a claim on my newly discovered field of optimistic stochastics. We'll hear more from her and Peter in the coming weeks.

I'm using a Russian mathematician's observation about the universe to open this discussion of publishing's Big Bang theory and our ever-expanding book firmament, which may well be infinite--just this week a new planet was discovered and named Amazon Kindle Singles--but still requires accurate charting. The exploration continues with a question for you: What is an independent publisher now?--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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