Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Marvel Press: Okoye to the People: A Black Panther Novel by Ibi Zoboi, illustrated by Noa Denmon

Knopf Publishing Group: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel

Algonquin Books: The Wonders by Elena Medel, translated by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunstead

Minotaur Books: The Shadow House by Anna Downes

Soho Crime: One-Shot Harry by Gary Phillips

Quotation of the Day

Reading Myths: Contemporary 'Entertainments Are Vastly Longer'

"Lots of people think that the Internet has ruined today's kids. They don't read, it seems. Google has rewired their brains and stunted their attention spans. Are attention spans deteriorating? Forty years ago, the length of Marcel Ophüls' The Sorrow and The Pity (at 4 hours 11 minutes) or Andy Warhol's Empire (6 hours 36 minutes) was a sign of extreme seriousness. Today, popular entertainments are vastly longer. J.M. Straczynski's Babylon 5 was conceived as a single story told in more than 100 hours of film. Joss Whedon's Buffy, The Vampire Slayer is a coming of age story meant to be viewed over a period of seven years. Harry Potter comes in seven volumes, none of them short, and when the children have finished those, they enjoy Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and the 20 volumes of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin stories. If our attention span grows short, one wonders where those mythic Victorians found time get anything done."

--Mark Bernstein in the Atlantic magazine.

 


Broadleaf Books: A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement by Katey Zeh


News

Notes: Amazon's Movie Deal; Oprah's Date with Dickens

Amazon Prime members will now get video entertainment as well as free shipping for their $79 annual fee with the launch of Prime Instant Videos, which offers unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of more than 5,000 movies and TV shows.

Fast Company noted the "ramped up benefits might be enough to pull Amazon users over to Amazon Prime. But will it be enough to sway users into canceling their Netflx and Hulu subscriptions? It's too early to say."

Engadget
gave the new option a test drive and wrote that "you can't be too harsh on a service that comes for 'free' and just makes an already tempting offering even more appealing, but ultimately Prime Instant Videos is actually quite good. No, the quality isn't quite as good as Netflix and you're going to have a hard time finding anything here that hasn't already been served up there, but now Amazon has another nice bonus to go along with all that two-day shipping."

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On a "Date with Dickens" yesterday, Oprah Winfrey played host to special guest Jane Smiley for an Oprah's Book Club webcast, where they discussed the most recent selections--A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. The webcast was recorded before an audience of book club readers.

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A new Amazon Kindle commercial takes another shot at Apple's iPad and its glare issue, but SlashGear expressed reservations about the ongoing campaign: "You can't blame them though for really emphasizing glare as it may be the only thing it can still compete on. With all the new tablets coming on the market that can consume media and perform a whole slew of other tasks along with higher resolution displays for more comfortable viewing and reading, it's less and less likely that consumers would choose to buy a separate device just for reading. It will be interesting to see what happens, should an anti-glare display ever be implemented on an iPad or other tablet device."

TechCrunch observed that a noteworthy aspect of the commercial "is that all of the actors appear to be in their twenties and thirties, which shows that Amazon is clearly trying to target a younger demographic in the spot. And the tagline 'The Book Lives On,' appears to be a new one."

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OverDrive Inc., the distributor of e-books for libraries, recently released the OverDrive Media Console for the iPad, a free app that allows readers to wirelessly download electronic books from their local libraries using the Apple iPad or an Android tablet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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The L Magazine spoke with Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., about the shop's experience with Google's eBookstore.

While noting that Greenlight has sold a limited number of e-books thus far, she expressed optimism about the possibilities: "The margin varies wildly from publisher to publisher and from book to book. The way I see it though, all of it is essentially free money for us--because we don't have to invest in the book inventory up front! Every e-book sale, even if we see only pennies from it, is a sale we didn't have to devote shelf space or inventory dollars to--so for us it's a net win. It's probably never going to be the core of what we do--that will continue to be our curated in-store inventory, and the community space we offer for human-scale connection over literature. But in the sense that it offers us an additional revenue stream, a seat at the digital table, and a chance to offer our loyal customers more of what they want--that is, books in any and all formats--it's a great opportunity for us, and for all independent stores."

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Operating on the logical theory that "in most cases, there is an independent bookstore within ten miles from a closed Borders," Edward Champion compiled a list of independent alternatives and observed that these shops "are run not by faceless corporations, but passionate book lovers who very often read the books they stock."

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"The day before Borders declared bankruptcy, I was in Dallas," author Melanie Benjamin wrote in the Huffington Post. She was on a book tour for her most recent novel, Alice I Have Been, and her media escort took her "to several Borders and Barnes and Noble stores to sign stock. There was no getting around the fact that in the Borders stores there was uncertainty in the air, bare tables, and employees putting on a brave face. I thanked them all profusely, and when we were back in the car, driving to the next bookstore, my media escort and I kept checking our e-mail for any news concerning these nice employees' fates.

"The day that Borders declared bankruptcy, I was in Austin. My media escort decided not to drive me to any Borders to sign stock, which meant I went to about half the places I had the day before. I signed half the books, shook half the hands. And tried not to think about what this meant not only for those nice employees, but for my future as an author....

"The night following the day that Borders declared bankruptcy, I was in an independent bookstore called BookPeople, where I talked about and signed copies of my book. BookPeople was packed.... In such an environment, I could almost forget about the news of the day and indeed, I think I did. For an hour, anyway....

"The night after the day Borders declared bankruptcy, I paid full price for two wonderful books. And as I did, I offered up a little prayer that others were doing the same. It seemed the only thing to do, under the circumstances."

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Jan Owens, who has owned the Millrace Bookshop, Farmington, Conn., for nearly 40 years, told the Farmington Patch that her recent addition of Google eBooks is part of the natural evolution of the business: "I have always been open to trying new ways to bring people in to the store, like participating in Think Farmington First, a buy local promotion. My approach has been to be a community resource. I have a unique section of books on Farmington. I have always tried to promote Millrace as a destination bookstore. People love it when they find it."

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"This Is Why Your Used Bookstore Clerk Hates You" was the provocative headline for a trip down bookseller memory lane by Michael Leaverton in SF Weekly, where he "relived some moments of quiet desperation" under the categories:

You Stole All Our Bukowski
You're Spending Too Much Time in the Erotica Section
You Camp Out in the Self-Help Section
You're Asleep
You Were Our Favorite English Professor
You Smell, Sir
You Don't Check Your Bag
You Check Everything You Own
You Ask for a Discount--Every Time
You're Selling Us Books
You Want to Know if We Sell Calendars


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The grammar police have been harassing U.K. indie Horatios Bookshop for two years about the lack of an apostrophe in the bookstore's name. Now, owners Robert and Sue Batt have put the dilemma up for vote, Bedford Today reported.

"When we opened the shop we were a bit undecided whether to use an apostrophe or not, but in the end we decided not to because we thought it looked neater without," said Robert. "But over the last year we just haven't heard the end of it. People are always asking us why there is no apostrophe, so we've given in and are now holding a referendum all through this month so people can vote."

Thus far, the voters are evenly split. "I didn't quite realize people's love of the English language and how irate they would get about a little apostrophe, it's caused us no end of trouble," Robert added.

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Of the 100 most borrowed titles from libraries in the U.K. last year, "close to two-thirds are crime novels or thrillers, including all the top 10, and others (such as Stephenie Meyer's crime-laden vampire romances) are in related genres," the Guardian reported. You can find separate charts for authors and books here. The top 10 most borrowed titles, according to data released by Public Lending Right (PLR), covering the period from mid-2009 to mid-2010, were:  

  1. Swimsuit by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  2. 8th Confession by James Patterson     
  3. Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
  4. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  5. Run for Your Life by James Patterson     
  6. Doors Open by Ian Rankin
  7. The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly     
  8. Genesis by Karin Slaughter
  9. Cross Country by James Patterson     
  10. The Complaints by Ian Rankin


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Literary Lost & Found Dept., Part 1: Ann Willmore, a bookseller in Daphne du Maurier's home town of Fowey in Cornwall, has discovered five lost stories by the author. The Guardian reported that Willmore "has been scouring other booksellers' catalogues for years to find lost stories, which Du Maurier published regularly in women's magazines in the U.K. and U.S. throughout her career."

"I try to make all things Du Maurier available and I'm also a major collector," said Willmore, who took the stories to Kits Browning, Du Maurier's son. They will be published May 5 by Virago, along with another eight other early stories originally published in the '50s, in a collection titled The Doll.

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Literary Lost & Found Dept., Part 2: The New York Times reported that researchers from the Jefferson Library at Monticello discovered "a trove of books that were among the last ones that Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s most bibliophilic president, collected and read in the decade before he died.... The 28 titles in 74 volumes were discovered recently in the collection of Washington University in St. Louis, immediately elevating its library to the third largest repository of books belonging to Jefferson after the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia."

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"Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas" was the World War II motto for the Council on Books in Wartime's Armed Services Editions, "a unique collaboration between government and private industry launched an effort to distribute almost 1.3 million books to American GI's. These books, the Armed Services Editions, were eagerly read by men in submarines, battleships, foxholes, and hospital beds, and not only served as a source of entertainment and solace during the war, but also turned many men into lifelong readers when they returned home," according to the Art of Manliness blog (via Boing Boing).

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What was Toni Morrison's name at birth? The Guardian celebrated the author's recent birthday with this Toni Morrison at 80 quiz.

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Warren Zevon's "Excitable Boy" would have to be on Hamlet's literary mixtape, wouldn't it? Flavorwire noted that on his iPod, the Prince of Denmark, "depressive, grieving borderline-psychotic that he is, wouldn't listen to anything other than intense, dark songs, though they might run the gamut of negative emotions. Here are the songs we think he'd plot, give monologues, and pull back the bloody curtains to."

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Bibliophile's video of the day: "Organizing the Bookcase."

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Book trailer of the day: The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman (HarperCollins).

 


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Booth by Karen Joy Fowler


B&N: Sales, E-Book Share Gain, Stock Falls 14.3%

Barnes & Noble results for the third quarter were mixed: revenue increased and the company made major gains in the sale of e-books and e-readers, but the cost of such efforts has cut into profits, and Wall Street reacted badly to that news, as well as the company's suspension of its dividend and the decision not to make forecasts of sales and earnings for the rest of the fiscal year. On a day when the Dow Jones Industrials fell 1.4%, B&N stock fell 14.3%, to $15.94, on five times the normal volume.

In the third quarter ended January 29, total sales at B&N rose 7%, to $2.3 billion, and net income fell 24.6%, to $60.6 million. During the first nine months of the fiscal year, total sales rose 25.3%, to $5.6 billion, and the net loss was $14.5 million, compared to a net gain of $68.7 million in the same period a year earlier.

Sales at B&N.com rose 64%, and sales at B&N stores open at least a year rose 7.3%. The company said that sales "benefited from strong consumer demand for Nook products and related accessories as well as the company's expanded toys and games selection." B&N has said that the sale of printed books has declined.

Sales at B&N College stores open at least a year fell 2.2%, in part because bad weather "affected many campuses throughout the country and extended the rush season from January into February, after the close of the company's third fiscal quarter." Had those sales not been pushed into the next quarter, same-store sales in the quarter would have fallen 1.3%.

CEO William Lynch called the third quarter "another big quarter for the company from the standpoint of key strategic progress that positions us well for the future." He emphasized that B&N now sells twice as many e-books as printed books on B&N.com. And during a conference call with analysts, he said, the Dow Jones Newswires reported, that B&N has 25% of the e-book market in the U.S., larger than the company's share of the market for physical books. Still, B&N said, its stores and the ability of staff to demonstrate e-readers to buyers is key.

The company suspended its quarterly dividend of 25 cents a share in order to "provide the company the financial flexibility to continue investing into its high-growth digital strategies, while simultaneously allowing the company to take advantage of any other market opportunities that may present themselves." The dividend freeze will add about $60 million to B&N's coffers.

The company also announced it will not make any predictions of sales or earnings during the rest of the fiscal year because of "the potential short-term impact that [Borders's] announced store closures may have in the marketplace."

B&N CFO Joe Lombardi said that the heavy discounts at the 200 Borders stores that are closing could decrease sales at the 150 or so B&N stores that are nearby but that after the stores are shut, B&N could benefit. Lombardi added that although the closing stores are Borders's worst stores, their sites could be attractive as new locations for existing B&N stores or be in markets B&N might want to expand into.

 


University of California Press: Savage Journey: Hunter S. Thompson and the Weird Road to Gonzo (1st ed.) by Peter Richardson


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Allison Pearson on NPR's Fresh Air

This morning on Imus in the Morning: Jonathan Franklin, author of 33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners (Putnam, $25.95, 9780399157776). Franklin is also on NPR's Diane Rehm Show tomorrow.

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Today on NPR's Fresh Air: Allison Pearson, author of I Think I Love You (Knopf, $24.95, 9781400042357).

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Tomorrow on the View: Donald Rumsfeld, author of Known and Unknown: A Memoir (Sentinel, $36, 9781595230676).

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Tomorrow on the Martha Stewart Show: Matthew Van Fleet, author of Heads (Paula Wiseman/S&S, $17.99, 9781442403796), who will make party blow-outs with Martha.

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Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: T.C. Boyle, author of When the Killing's Done (Viking, $26.95, 9780670022328). As the show put it: "T.C. Boyle's newest novel contains elements of sea-adventure story and eco-thriller. In it, he brings together the themes of his life's work, as he explores the interstices of the green-movement and the animal rights community in their efforts to preserve the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. As always in Boyle, to be human is to err, and here the human follies are species-wide and head-on."

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Tomorrow night on the Charlie Rose Show: Joyce Carol Oates, author of A Widow's Story (Ecco, $27.99, 9780062015532).

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Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Mike Huckabee, author of A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don't!) (Sentinel, $26.95, 9781595230737). He will also appear on Tavis Smiley.

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Tomorrow night on the Late Show with David Letterman: Senator Rand Paul, author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington (Center Street, $21.99, 9781455503117).

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Tomorrow night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, author of A Shore Thing (Gallery, $24, 9781451623741).


Television: Council of Dads

Casting continues for the Fox Comedy pilot Council Of Dads, based on Bruce Feiler's book The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me. Deadline.com reported that Diane Farr (The Job; Rescue Me) is set as the female lead, joining a cast that also includes Patrick Breen and Ken Howard.

 


Movies: Inherent Vice; Dogs of Babel; Two DiCaprio Projects

How can you pass up the Tinseltown rumor mill when Thomas Pynchon's name is invoked? According to the Hollywood Reporter, Robert Downey Jr. "is making plans to fill the fall hole in his schedule with the lead role in Inherent Vice for writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson has been working on a screenplay adaptation of the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel while trying to get another film--an untitled exploration of a religious organization sometimes referred to as The Master--off the ground. Once Downey dropped out of Disney's Oz, the Great and Powerful last month, it freed him to do another movie later this year after he shoots The Avengers for Marvel and Disney. His commitment to Anderson's movie has recently grown serious."

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Comic actor Steve Carell, who is leaving NBC's hit series The Office, will star in and produce a film adaptation of Carolyn Parkhurst's novel Dogs of Babel for Mandate Pictures. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Mandate "plans on finding a director ASAP."

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Martin Scorsese plans to direct The Wolf of Wall Street, adapted by Terry Winter (Boardwalk Empire) from Jordan Belfort's memoir. Deadline.com reported that Scorsese will begin shooting the film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, "after he finishes post on Hugo Cabret and then films his dream project, Silence, an adaptation of the Shusaku Endo book that now has Benicio Del Toro attached."

"After almost four years in development, I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am to finally be working with Leo and Marty on this," said Belfort. "They're the ultimate dream team, and it was definitely worth the wait."

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It's a long way from Long Island, but Baz Luhrmann's 3D version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby will begin shooting in Sydney, Australia, next August after a deal was signed with the New South Wales (NSW) state government recently. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, while Carey Mulligan has been offered the role of Daisy Buchanan, the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

"This comes at a good time for the film industry," said NSW Premier Kristina Kenneally. "Australia was thought to be losing international filmmaking due to the strong Aussie dollar--put simply, this is a big win."

 



Books & Authors

Awards: Nebula Finalists

Active members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America have begun voting on finalists for the Nebula Awards, which will be announced at the Nebula Awards banquet in Washington, D.C., on May 21. Nominees may be seen here.

 


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover

Ghost Light: A Novel by Joseph O'Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24, 9780374161873). "Occasionally, a novel will come along that breaks the bounds between fact and fiction, romance and reality, to create a story so insightful and true that the scenes come to life before your eyes. Ghost Light is the fictionalized account of the famed Irish playwright J.M. Synge and his lover, the actress Maire O'Neill. Alternating with the Dublin tableaux is the tale of Maire's later life as a poverty-stricken alcoholic in 1952 London, where she haunted by the memories of both her days with Synge and her acting career, and struggling to make her way, day by day. Bravo!"--Carl Hoffman, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis.

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo (Free Press, $26, 9781416583936). "If you're expecting Day of Honey to read like a typical memoir, think again. A mix of memoir, history, foodie narrative, and war story, this book is really quite amazing. Ciezadlo has the perfect voice for her chosen mix of topics: she's obviously intelligent, insightful yet non-judgmental, and when needed, wickedly humorous. Who knew you could learn so much about war and culture in the Middle East while contemplating the recipe for Kibbeh Nayeh? Bravo!"--Roni K. Devlin, Literary Life Bookstore & More, Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.

Paperback

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf (Mira, $15.95, 9780778328797). "Allison Glenn has just been released from prison for a heinous crime committed when she was 16. Now 21, she is returning to her hometown, Linden Falls, to try to make reparations with her parents and Brynn, her sister, who was with her the night of the crime. A story too often seen in the news is shared anew in this powerful novel of family responsibility, which demonstrates that the choices one makes will affect oneself and others for a lifetime."--Karen Briggs, Great Northern Books and Hobbies, Oscoda, Mich.

For Ages 4 to 8

Forsythia & Me: A Book About Two Amazing Friends by Vincent X. Kirsch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99, 9780374324384). "Forsythia is a daring and amazingly talented friend. When she turns up under the weather one day, her admiring friend Chester musters his own talents and aids in her recovery. If you love quirky, you'll love this fun friendship story. A good book for 'older' picture book readers, and the illustrations are a treat for all ages!"--Angela K. Sherrill, 57th Street Books, Chicago, Ill.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

 

 


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, March 1:

Sing You Home: A Novel by Jodi Picoult (Atria, $28, 9781439102725) follows a custody battle for fertilized embryos between a lesbian couple and one of their newly religious ex-husbands.

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy (Knopf, $26.95, 9780307273567) takes place in a closely knit Irish neighborhood where a young alcoholic struggles with unexpected fatherhood.

Rodin's Debutante
by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin, $26, 9780547504193) follows a boy's adolescence and early adulthood in Chicago during the mid-20th century.

Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, $12.99, 9780061915260) is a children's book about the artistic aspirations of a little girl with glitter markers.

River Marked by Patricia Briggs (Ace, $26.95, 9780441019731) is book six in the supernatural Mercy Thompson series.

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW, $29.95, 9780756404734) is a continuation of the 2007 fantasy novel The Name of the Wind, in which an innkeeper recalls a life of heroic deeds.

To Kingdom Come: An Epic Saga of Survival in the Air War Over Germany by Robert J. Mrazek (NAL, $25.95, 9780451232274) recalls a perilous 1943 bombing run over Nazi Germany.

Getting to Heaven: Departing Instructions for Your Life Now by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey (Berkley, $25.95, 9780425240281) is an "instruction book" regarding the Christian idea of the afterlife.

In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me by Lang Whitaker (Scribner, $24, 9781439148389) traces the career of the baseball manager.

Revolt!: How to Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann (Broadside Books, $26.99, 9780062073303) advocates no tax increases, weakening federal regulations and cutting social programs in the name of deficit reduction.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer (Penguin Press, $26.95, 9781594202292) chronicles the training process of a once forgetful U.S. Memory Champion. (Before we forget, pub date for this title is Thursday, March 3.)

 


Alexander O. Smith: The Mysterious Japanese Mystery

Mystery is one of my favorite genres, so I was excited to get The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (Minotaur Books, $24.99, February 2011). Though Higashino is one of the most successful writers in Japan and Asia, this is only the second of his novels to be published here. 

His first novel came out in 1989, and his breakout was the 1999 novel Himitsu (The Secret), which was an award-winning bestseller and the basis for a hit Japanese movie (remade later by Luc Besson in France); it's scheduled to be a Japanese TV series. Since that breakout novel, Higashino's work has simply exploded.

His work was translated into Chinese about two years ago and now he's possibly the bestselling novelist in China, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. In Japan, Higashino has assumed an almost iconic status. He and Haruki Murakami are often cited in tandem as the two major writers that a general reader would be expected to know immediately, like Stephen King or James Patterson.

I am intrigued by Japanese mysteries because there is something "other" about them, something more formal, beyond being set in another culture. When I found out that Higashino doesn't give interviews--common among celebrities in Japan--it occurred to me that interviewing his translator might give me, and other fans, some insight into Japanese mystery writing. So I called Alexander O. Smith, the primary translator, with a few questions.--Marilyn Dahl

 

What is there about Japanese mysteries that makes them different?

Well, I think there are a number of angles you could go at that question from. By the formal nature, I assume you're talking about the scene structure that strikes you....

A little bit. And sometimes the interactions, or the characters' demeanor--there seems to be a certain calmness in a lot of the characters, even when they're plotting something or have done something bad. For instance, one sentence says, "Ishigami's reply was calmly mechanical," and that seems to be a common theme.

Part of this is surely coming from the nature of [the protagonist] Ishigami--a man whose true devotion is to mathematics first. But the other characters are talking across metaphorical (and in some cases, physical) walls. It makes the "Devotion" in the title sound rather ironic.

Style-wise, Higashino feels very Western to me. He's drawing much less from the set-piece style of writing you see going all the way back to the Tale of Genji, where a lot of the characters are interchangeable and it's really all about setting up these moments, these sort of perfect scenes--somebody peeking through a hole and somebody falling in love at first sight.

Higashino has a bit of that Japanese emphasis on the scene, together with the Western emphasis on motivation and characterization, and I think the really successful authors mix the two quite nicely. In The Devotion of Suspect X in particular, his style is very sparse, and feels very modern in that way.

And it seems very cinematic. When Yasuko is being driven home in the taxi with Kudo, and Ishigama is waiting with his umbrella at the bottom of the steps, I could visualize that perfectly.

Yeah, that's a great scene, a great moment. And it translates really well into what are called "home dramas"--a cross between soap operas and miniseries, basically soap operas with a clear beginning and ending, running in prime time for one or two seasons on Japanese TV. Almost every mystery book that Higashino Keigo has written has been made into a home drama. The Devotion of Suspect X and the characters in it inspired a home drama called Galileo, where the Yukawa character, the professor, becomes the main protagonist, and he goes around solving mysteries.

One of the interesting changes that happened in the TV version was they decided to add a little more on-screen tension and 'sexy' it up. Instead of using the detective Kusanagi as the main foil to Yukawa, they changed his sidekick to a woman. That adds a number of new story elements to play with: the role of the woman in a male-dominated Japanese police force, and the sexual tension, or lack thereof, between her and the ethereal professor Yukawa.

The changes propagated back to the novels, too. For his subsequent book, Higashino adopted the home drama idea, and he made the sidekick to the lead detective a woman.

I think it's interesting that the cinematic moments in The Devotion of Suspect X lead to a cinematic treatment (on the small screen), which then influenced the future novels in the series. The Professor Yukawa novels are not a chronological series as much as a series with the same characters--a classic detective series, in other words.

I like the "otherness" of this book, but if I were a bookseller, how would I sell this to someone who has not read Japanese mysteries before, or read a couple and was put off?

Well, it does require a bit of suspension of comfort. Especially in the first third, but once you get around the "otherness"--and this is the same advice I would give to a student stepping off the plane in Japan for a semester abroad--you will find that the things driving the characters and the motivations behind the characters are exactly the same as us.

Some of your translation choices intrigue me; for instance, when you are describing Togashi, you say he lived large. Then, later on in the book, Yukawa says, "Stop right there, how tall was the victim?" and Kusanagi says, "One hundred and seventy centimeters plus change." Why would you go with the American slang but then use the metric system for height?

That is a great question. The answer is that with expressions like "he lived large" (literally, "he flapped his wings well"), translation requires setting aside the specific words of the Japanese idiom and paying more respect to intended effect of the original phrase. You localize as much as possible and make the language feel as natural English as possible, while being careful not to trample motifs and characterizations. It's a very delicate process.

With the metric system, I left the choice up to the publisher, but the metric system is used in many English-speaking countries, and it's part of the setting, so I leaned toward leaving it alone. With mystery novels in particular you want to be very careful about changing specific details because you never know when something is going to get referenced later and actually become crucial, and you can end up with a huge messy rewrite.

It doesn't hurt to remind of us of the exotic setting--even when that's a dreary apartment complex in the middle of Tokyo.

And one has to pay a lot of attention to unfamiliar social cues, because they impact the story. I liked having to give it that kind of consideration.

Clearly you're willing to do some work as a reader.

As long as the book is good.

I think that it does reward a little effort. And that's a question you have to ask as a translator as well: how easy should I make this? I know that the dialogue in the first quarter of the book, especially, can seem a little disjointed because all of the formalities haven't been smoothed out. It definitely rewards a little attention.

It takes a while to get into the rhythm, the flow of the narrative when you are inside Ishigami's head. Everything in his world happens as though it's a mathematical proof, it's all A, B, thus C. Everything is happening in a real discrete order, and you see him paying attention to the kind of details a detective might pay attention to, a very exact attention to the world around him.

The title page of The Devotion of Suspect X notes it was translated by you and Elye Alexander.

I was first contacted to do this work by Keith Kahla at St. Martin's Press, because he had seen my translation of The Twelve Kingdom juvenile fantasy series published by TokyoPop. I had worked on those with Elye; I often collaborate with him on novels that have a real strong poetic feel to them, because I feel like the interplay works well. I will translate the novel as well as I can into flowing English, then I pass it to him and he does little tweaks as sort of an editing pass. And then I get it back and make sure nothing got scraped too far from the original. It gives me a little separation from the work, so I can give it my all, and pass it off to him again, and when I get it back it's a good sanity check. Elye doesn't speak or read Japanese, so it helps catch those little bits of translation-ese. I always prefer the collaborative approach to lone-gunning it, and I think the creative give-and-take contributes to a superior result.

 


Book Review

Children's Review: Stop Snoring, Bernard!

Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah O'Hora (Henry Holt & Company, $16.99 Hardcover, 9780805090024, April 2011)

Here's a debut that's sure to make a splash--for both author-artist Zachariah OHora and his otter hero, Bernard. The entire palette consists of the colors you see on the cover: mustard yellow, burnt orange, otter-tank aqua and chocolate brown. These tones, printed on cream-colored paper with bold, black outlines and blocky text bring to mind classic picture books of the 1930s and '40s.

Children will see themselves in Bernard, an affable otter who loves living at the zoo. "He loved mealtime, playtime, and best of all... naptime!" In a swim tank filled with otter friends, youngsters will easily identify Bernard as the slightly darker chocolaty fellow with his eyes wide open. They may also notice one other otter floating in the upper right-hand corner with his brow deeply furrowed. He's the one who, on the next page, tells the hero, "Snore somewhere else, Bernard!" So Bernard moves to a lake. Giant 3-D block-like black letters that glow with fire-red outlines trumpet the word "S-N-O-R-E!" and two yellow snouts appear nearby. "Stop snoring, Bernard!" shouts a mustard-yellow gator on the next page, so loudly that the startled Bernard jumps as high as the bridge. He next tries a fountain (the giraffes are not pleased), a puddle (a mean mother elephant douses him with her trunk--even her calf looks upset) and a cave--which works well until its nocturnal inhabitants return to sleep by day. Just as a defeated Bernard heads toward the exit, his otter friends find him, and Grumpy Giles apologizes. Children will love joining in with the call-and-response refrain ("S-N-O-R-E!"/ "Stop snoring, Bernard!"), and Bernard's alternative nap spots, all located within the zoo's environs, contribute to an overall feeling of familiarity and safety. This is a crowd-pleaser sure to send youngsters clamoring for more from snoring Bernard.--Jennifer M. Brown

 


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