Shelf Awareness for Friday, November 11, 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

Smaller Bookstores a "Perfectly Viable" Business Model

"It's the only retail industry I can think of that will go full circle, back to the way it originally was. From the small-village bookstore to the big-box retailer and then back again. That doesn't ever happen in retail."

--Jeff Green, president of retail consulting firm Jeff Green Partners, in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek feature headlined "The End of Borders and the Future of Books." Green "believes bookstores of around 2,500 square feet offer a perfectly viable--if only modestly profitable--business model."


 


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


News

ABA Endorses Marketplace Fairness Act

The American Booksellers Association expressed its support for the Marketplace Fairness Act, which was introduced this week by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators (Shelf Awareness, November 10, 2011). The ABA called the bill an important step toward a national sales tax fairness solution and is urging members to write to their senators in support of the legislation. Template letters, which booksellers can adapt and e-mail or fax to their senators, are available in ABA's E-Fairness Action Kit.

"While we recognize that our continued campaign for a national solution to sales tax inequity is far from over, important legislation has now been introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and, for the first time in a long time, there has been significant movement in Washington in the fight for e-fairness," said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. "It is crucial that we take advantage of this window of opportunity."

Teicher also acknowledged Amazon's endorsement of the Main Street Fairness Act: "We are pleased to hear about Amazon's support. Despite its long record of vigorously battling sales tax equity, we welcome Amazon to the fold. As the bill moves through the legislative process, we hope we can continue to count on Amazon's support."
 
In a letter to Senator Dick Durbin, one of the bill's co-sponsors, Teicher noted that the Marketplace Fairness Act "does not, in any way, impose a new tax. This is an issue of state rights and the federal government providing states with the authorization to require remote retailers to collect and remit sales tax in the state--rather than requiring consumers to declare the use tax on their income tax statements. Importantly, this legislation does not compel any state to join. However, any state that chooses to adopt this system would then have the authority to require online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes."
 


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


Amazon Reboots Kindle Fire Orders

Amazon has increased its Kindle Fire orders to more than five million units before the end of 2011, according to DigiTimes, which cited "sources from upstream component suppliers" who said pre-orders for the device remain strong. This is the second order upgrade, since Amazon had "already raised its order volume once in the middle of the third quarter, up from 3.5 million units originally to four million units," DigiTimes wrote. The Kindle Fire ships next Wednesday.

TechCrunch called the order change "a drop in the bucket compared with iPad sales, but the Amazon board is probably breathing a collective sigh of relief, having spent a huge sum of money developing the device. The Fire will likely be the second-place tablet for some time at this rate, which, when first place belongs to one of the best-selling gadgets of all time, isn’t a bad place to be."

PCWorld's Jared Newman observed that the "reportedly healthy sales should be no surprise. Apple's iPad created an interest in tablets, but in doing so it also created a market for people who want a tablet but don't want to spend $500 or more to get one.... For that reason, I don't buy the studies that claim the Kindle Fire's early success spells trouble for Apple's iPad. The market for 7-inch tablets selling at $200 is different from the market for 10-inch tablets going for $500. The big question is not whether the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet threaten the iPad, but whether Apple will try to tap the other market with a smaller, cheaper iPad.... But for now, I don't see any reason why small, cheap tablets like the Kindle Fire and big, expensive ones like the iPad can't thrive independently."
 


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


Greek Economic Crisis Cripples Book Trade

The economic crisis in Greece, which continues to be headline news worldwide, has had a profound impact on the country's book trade. Ekathimerini.com reported that Greek booksellers were hit "faster and harder than they had expected, bringing publishers down with them."  

"The problem began with a drop in sales at bookstores, as the incomes of people who buy books dropped dramatically," said an unnamed industry source, who cited the challenges faced by bookshops in Athens with the constant disruption from street protests. "There has, however, been a small increase in sales at bookstores in areas outside of the city center and in other parts of the country, but when small stores see a drop in turnover it is almost impossible to regain it."

Chain bookstores "invested a good deal of money that was supposed to begin giving back returns just as the crisis started to bite. As a result, they are now facing the threat of significant losses," ekathimerini.com noted, adding that due to the perfect storm of bad conditions, "many publishers, wary of the widespread freeze on payments, are insisting on cash-only transactions and refusing to extend any credit to booksellers."


Obituary Note: Morris Philipson

Morris Philipson, who led the University of Chicago Press "as it became the largest and one of the nation’s most important publishers of monumental scholarly works, modern fiction and postwar European philosophy," died last week, the New York Times reported. He served as director of the publisher from 1967 to 2000.
 


Notes

Images of the Day: Celebrating Movember

On Tuesday BookPeople, Austin, Tex., held its first mustache contest in celebration of That Is All by the mustachioed John Hodgman (Dutton), the final book in the trilogy of Complete World Knowledge. Hodgson (l.) and the store judged the event.

And yesterday morning Workman and RecordSetter.com staff set a new record of 72 in the category of "people watching a live TV broadcast in fake mustaches" when they gathered outside the Good Morning America studio in New York City. The occasion was the release of The RecordSetter Book of World Records: More Than 300 Extraordinary Feats by Ordinary People by Dan Rollman and Corey Henderson (founder of the site), which has the full stories of some of the quirky, cool and hilarious records chronicled on RecordSetter.com.

Both events were part of Movember, an annual campaign involving the growing of moustaches/facial hair during the month of November to raise awareness and funds for men's health.

 


E-Book Marketing for Indie Booksellers

Bookselling This Week spoke with three independent booksellers about their e-book marketing techniques, and found a consensus on certain strategies, including: "feature them in general and targeted electronic and print newsletters, advertise online and in-store, train staff, and 'just be relentless.' "

"Find the tech savvy people and have them jump on board, and give the frontline staff handouts to give to customers," said Paul Hanson, community outreach director at Village Books, Bellingham, Wash. He embraces the personal approach to e-book marketing. "That's what independent booksellers do best--one book at a time, one customer at a time. They end up being our most loyal customers."

The personal touch also works for Gallery Bookshop, Mendocino, Calif. Owner Christie Olson Day said, "The most effective thing we’ve done is talk face to face with customers. And it takes specific strategies to start those conversations. Simple example: We printed a bookmark with big letters: 'WE SELL E-BOOKS.' We use it to start conversations."

Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif., told BTW that selling e-books involves the same skills for selling print books: "Just be relentless and do what you do well, be it handselling the idea of Google eBooks on the sales floor, announcing it before every event, or yelling it from the mountaintops."


Swan Song for Borders: 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'

An autographed guitar that Beatles legend George Harrison presented to Borders officials a decade ago as "a sign of his gratitude for the bookstore chain's support of one of his reissued records" was sold off by Gordon Brothers Group during the liquidation process, AnnArbor.com reported.

The Fender Stratocaster guitar had been displayed in a glass-enclosed case at the company's Ann Arbor, Mich., headquarters. Susan Aikens, who worked there for 16 years, said she "walked past it every day as I went to work.... George Harrison never wanted it to be sold. It was given to us as a gift as an appreciation. It's just unfortunate because of the way the bankruptcy and the liquidation has gone. Everything belongs to the liquidation now." A group of former headquarters employees had attempted to raise funds to buy the guitar before it could be sold by the liquidators, but were not able to do so in time.  


Dallanegra-Sanger Joins ABA as Senior Program Officer

Joy Dallanegra-Sanger is joining the American Booksellers Association as senior program officer, a new position, Bookselling This Week reported. Dallanegra-Sanger's résumé includes 15 years in publishing and 13 years in book retailing. Most recently, she was senior v-p and director of marketing for Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.  

"We could not be more excited that Joy will be joining ABA," said Oren Teicher, ABA CEO. "I have no doubt that her considerable and wide-ranging industry experience--which includes extensive interaction with our bookstore members--will help ABA focus on areas of particular and immediate importance to indie booksellers, especially in advancing our ongoing discussions regarding new business models and in helping to promote children's bookselling."

Dallanegra-Sanger expressed excitement about the "opportunity to use my experience of almost 30 years in bookselling and publishing on behalf of independent booksellers at a pivotal moment in bricks-and-mortar retailing." After November 28, Dallanegra-Sanger can be reached at joy@bookweb.org.



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Ann Beattie on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday

Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday: Ann Beattie, author of Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life (Scribner, $26, 9781439168714).

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Sunday on ABC's Nightline: U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, co-author of Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope (Scribner, $26.99, 9781451661064).


Breaking Dawn: Twihard Frenzy in L.A. for Monday's Premiere

"Do not diss these fans," Deadline.com cautioned yesterday morning in reporting that more than 700 dedicated fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series were in line "waiting to be assigned their 'camping spot' at LA Live in front of the Nokia Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. All to glimpse the stars of Breaking Dawn Part 1 walk the Red Carpet at Monday's premiere."

Nationwide, MovieTickets.com has sold out 1,344 performances for the November 18 debut and the movie already represents 72% of Fandango’s weekly ticket sales, with more than 1,000 showtimes sold out in advance, Deadline.com wrote, adding that theater owners "are scrambling to add more screenings to meet the fan demand. According to a Fandango survey, 48% of Breaking Dawn Part 1 ticket-buyers plan to see the pic on opening night."


Movie Projects: Miles Davis

Producers have hired George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food; Faster; Notorious; Barbershop) to develop and direct Miles Davis, based on the 2006 book Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis by the legendary musician's son, Gregory Davis. Variety reported that a timeline for the project "has not yet been set."
 


Books & Authors

Awards: Roald Dahl Funny Prize; Dylan Thomas

Winners of the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize are Cats Ahoy!, written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Jim Field (six-and-under category), and The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, written and illustrated by Liz Pichon (seven-to-fourteen category). Each received a check for £2,500 (US$3,983).

"The real beauty of these books is not only the deep down in your belly, shoulder shaking laughter that the words induce, but the expertly crafted interactive relationship they have with the VERY funny illustrations," observed chair of judges Michael Rosen. "These two books are master classes in how to write and how to draw funny."
 
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Lucy Caldwell won the £30,000 (US$47,801) Dylan Thomas Prize for Young Writers, for her novel The Meeting Point. Professor Peter Stead, founder of the award for best writing in any genre by a writer under 30, praised The Meeting Point as "a beautifully written and mature reflection on identity, loyalty and belief in a complex world."
 


Book Brahmin: Paul Russell

Paul Russell is the author of six novels, including Sea of Tranquillity, The Coming Storm and, most recently, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov (Cleis Press, November 8, 2011), based on the life of the gay brother of Vladimir Nabokov. A professor at Vassar College, Russell lives in upstate New York in an old farmhouse he shares with four badly behaved cats and tends a chaotic flower garden in his spare time.

On your nightstand now:

I've just finished Ginny Bailey's striking debut novel, Africa Junction, a disturbing and moving look at the intertwined destinies of several lost souls as they traverse England, Liberia and Senegal over three difficult decades. It's not yet been published in the U.S., but it's well worth trying to find a copy. Next on my pile is Keith Scribner's The Oregon Experiment.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (see below); also Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End (I went through an intense science fiction phase between the ages of 11 and 14). One of my fondest memories from childhood is of my dad reading aloud to me from the Golden Book editions of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Your top five authors:

I absolutely love the difficult, challenging modernists. I go back to them again and again: Joyce, Proust, Mann, Woolf, Nabokov. I also adore Dickens. The Pickwick Papers is unadulterated pleasure from beginning to end, the greatest comic novel ever.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never been able to get through The Brothers Karamazov, though I've tried on several occasions. The prose, at least in translation[s], seems maddeningly careless and inexact. Someone once called Dostoevsky a genius without talent; that seems about right.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Mark Merlis's extraordinarily original and off-beat An Arrow's Flight--the Trojan War as seen from the perspective of a gay bar.

Book you've bought for the cover:

(Sheepishly) ...I thought the original cover for Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story enormously attractive.

Book that changed your life:

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I still vividly remember reading this book when I was 11; it cast a spell on me like nothing ever had before. For days afterward, I felt feverish, disoriented, changed. A sense of simply not knowing what to do with myself. Even today, those symptoms follow after I've finished a great book. I remember similar feelings on completing Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country and William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow.

Favorite line from a book:

Most writers would have written the following sentence and been content: "Here, stopping for a moment by the stone urn which held the geraniums, he saw his wife and son, together, in the window." This is the way Virginia Woolf writes it in To the Lighthouse: "Here, stopping for a moment by the stone urn which held the geraniums, he saw, but now far, far away, like children picking up shells, divinely innocent and occupied with little trifles at their feet and somehow defenseless against a doom which he perceived, his wife and son, together, in the window." The literal action remains unchanged, but the addition of that simile deepens the moment immeasurably, and makes an otherwise unremarkable gesture utterly heartbreaking.

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

Finnegans Wake.

Neglected writers you'd like to see more widely read:

Jonathan Strong, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Glenway Wescott, Molly Keene, James McConkey.

 


Book Review

Review: The Third Reich

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño, trans. by Natasha Wimmer (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $25 hardcover, 9780374275624, November 22, 2011)

Roberto Bolaño (Savage Detectives and 2666) was at least as enigmatic in person as the people he wrote about. This novel, written in 1989, was found in his belongings after his death in 2003, at age 50, and was serialized in the Paris Review in the spring of 2011. It is rumored that there are two more completed manuscripts waiting to see the light.

Udo Berger, a German war-games champion, is on holiday with his girlfriend, Ingeborg, in a small town on the Costa Brava that he often visited as a child. He recalls the hotel, the owner, everything about it, and is surprised that nobody remembers him. He sets up his game in their hotel room and spends most of every day evolving strategies, moves and triumphant takeovers of towns and cities. Ingeborg sunbathes by day and they go out at night. Early on, they meet Charly and Hanna, who have been in town for a while and party frequently with two men from the seamy side of town--the Wolf and the Lamb. On the beach one evening, Udo meets a man called El Quemado, "the burned one," grotesquely disfigured by burns of unknown origin, who lives under one of the pedal boats he rents out.

Without naming names or citing incidents, Bolaño is able to sustain tension, suggest violence lurking nearby and create mysteries around the three men, Udo, Charly and El Quemado. Charly is a wild man, given to taking foolish chances, drinking himself senseless, going swimming in the middle of the night--and one night, he disappears. It is quickly assumed that he has drowned. Hanna stays for several days, then leaves for home. Ingeborg goes home also, leaving Udo on his own, except for the men. He is alternately attracted and repulsed by the Wolf and the Lamb, finding them venal and stupid--but El Quemado is a different story.

Udo initiates a paranoid war-game battle with El Quemado, inviting him into his room late at night. Ultimately, the game becomes a test for Udo of more than his proficiency as a gamer. (There was, in fact, a real strategy board game called "Rise and Decline of the Third Reich," which Bolaño seems to have used as his model.) Several minor characters play a part in this strange dance that deals only with surfaces. The suggestion of sinister events never lifts, and neither does the atmosphere of secrecy surrounding them. Rape and violence are mentioned frequently; what really happened to Charly is never clear and Udo is about to be dethroned as war-game champion by the neophyte El Quemado. The conclusion is flat, leaving the reader thinking that had Bolaño lived he would have really finished this book instead of just ending it. --Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: A champion war-gamer and his girlfriend get mixed up with another couple and three seedy characters while on vacation on the Costa Brava. There are games going on, and not all of them are above board.

 

 


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Spotting the Rare 'Author Celebrity'

"Celebrity authors" are everywhere you turn these days, hogging up media and multimedia space as well as bestseller lists, but "author celebrities" are a rare species. Famous authors? Dime a dozen. Authors aspiring to be famous? I'm sure there are a few hundred. David Budbill's mischievous "Dilemma," one of my favorite poems from his collection Moment to Moment (Copper Canyon Press), begins:

I want to be
          famous
so I can be
          humble
about being
          famous.


It's a poem that makes me smile. Famous happens all the time, but only a chosen few authors ever qualify to be a "celebrity" beyond the borders of our reading world, even if we factor in the increasingly devalued meaning of the word. When we say "celebrity author" now, we're all too often referring to book-like substances by reality show stars or beneficiaries of "my five minutes of fame" syndrome.  

I started thinking about this yesterday morning when I read a Bangor Daily News story about the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation's work with two local radio stations (owned by the author) to raise $140,000 in fuel assistance funds for low-income residents in the wake of federal funding cuts.

"We'll match up to $70,000 of the amount raised," King said. "This economy is terrible and Tabitha and I both worry so much about Bangor because it truly is a working-class town and we are always looking for ways to help, and right now this is a great need." King may be a mega-celebrity bestselling author, but in Maine he's also a local boy who made good: "We still come back," he added. "Our children grew up on West Broadway and that is still where they want to be during the holidays. We don't forget how cold it is in Maine in the winter."

This was a nice little news item, a small-town New England story easily read, easily forgotten. Many other writers do great work for their communities and other organizations. Sometimes we pay a little more attention; often we don't.

Within hours of King's fuel fund announcement, however, the news had gone international, picked up by media outlets ranging from BusinessWeek to Reuters, CBS News to the Guardian. This is the aftershock effect an "author celebrity" generates. Many people who have never read King's books, or anything at all, can still tell you he's that famous scary dude. They know his movies, or maybe they saw him as "Bachman" in an episode of Sons of Anarchy on TV last year. I suspect even Snooki--who recently said she didn't know who J.K. Rowling or Maya Angelou are--would recognize Stephen King's name.

On the few occasions when our paths briefly crossed, King struck me as a relatively, perhaps remarkably, normal guy, especially when you factor in his preferred fictional subject matter and the intense passion of his fan base.

I first met him in 1994 at the Northshire Bookstore, where he launched his Harley-riding, coast-to-coast Insomnia promotion tour in support of indies. At an event after-party, he was low-key, courteous, even played some guitar with the band. He seemed exactly like the kind of guy who would care about what happens to his home region, as he does. His books are much scarier than he is, and that's the weird, mysterious aspect of the author celebrity. King is the genuine item, and I'm not sure why.

How does this "author celebrity" thing happen anyway? Plenty of authors have sold as many books as King has, but their $70,000 heating fund donations would not be headline news worldwide. "Author celebrity" is like winning the lottery for famous writers, with all the attendant rewards and nuisances.

Any of us can make an impressive list of "famous" authors who act like celebrities, and celebrities who act like authors, but how long is the list of author celebrities? Not long at all, I suspect. Even in this golden age of social networking and shameless self-promotion, you can't really lobby your way to the position.

But if you are one of those authors doomed to be merely a famous, there is still a bright side. Fran Lebowitz offers this tidbit of solace: "The best fame is a writer's fame. It's enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)
 


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