Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 27, 2012

Aladdin Paperbacks: The First Magnificent Summer by R.L. Toalson

Del Rey Books: Thief Liar Lady by D.L. Soria

Chronicle Books: Is It Hot in Here (or Am I Suffering for All Eternity for the Sins I Committed on Earth)? by Zach Zimmerman

First Second: Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham

Harvest Publications: The Dinner Party Project: A No-Stress Guide to Food with Friends by Natasha Feldman

Wednesday Books: Guardians of Dawn: Zhara (Guardians of Dawn #1) by S. Jae-Jones


ILSR Survey: Consumers Were in 'Buy Local' Holiday Mood

A recent national survey by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance confirmed widespread reports that locally-owned independent businesses experienced strong sales growth and community support during the holiday season. Bookselling This Week reported that that the ILSR survey, conducted in partnership with several business organizations, including the American Booksellers Association, "gathered data from 1,768 independent businesses across 49 states over an eight-day period in January." Key findings include:

  • Retail survey respondents in areas with an active "buy local" campaign reported holiday sales growth of 8.5% in 2011, compared to 5.2% for those retailers in areas without such an initiative.
  • Independent retailers, which comprised about half the survey respondents, said their holiday sales increased 6.7% on average, compared to the overall holiday sales growth of  4.1%.
  • More than 75% of the businesses surveyed said public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses had increased in the last year.
  • Independent businesses in communities with an active "buy local" campaign operated by a local business organization reported annual revenue growth of 7.2% in 2011, compared to 2.6% for those in areas without such an initiative.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher noted that "what was clearly a growing Shop Local trend is now a business reality. Shoppers understand how important a strong foundation of healthy local businesses is to their communities--and they are voting in favor of independent retailers with their spending."

Blackstone Publishing: All Is Not Forgiven by Joe Kenda

Atlanta's Outwrite Bookstore Closes

Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Atlanta, Ga., closed this week after 18 years in business. Owner Philip Rafshoon hosted a "Last Tango" event at the store Tuesday. Outwrite had announced in November that it was likely to close this location, which "served not only as a place for purchasing books and author readings but also as an unofficial LGBT community center," the Georgia Voice reported. Rafshoon had hoped to open in another spot.

In a final thank-you letter to patrons and the greater Atlanta community, Rafshoon wrote: "Since we shared our financial struggles with you nine months ago, we have been very encouraged by the strong show of support. We have listened to your insights and your desire for us to stay in business. So many of you have generously stepped up, shared your ideas and volunteered your time in an effort to transform Outwrite to meet the changing needs of our customers and our community.

"Unfortunately, we have run out of time and money to make that transformation. We have examined and exhausted all possibilities for continuing this company given our financial situation."

KidsBuzz for the Week of 03.27.23

Larry Kirshbaum: 'Amazon's Hit Man'

Dubbing him "Amazon's Hit Man," Bloomberg Businessweek featured an in-depth look at Larry Kirshbaum, v-p and publisher, Amazon Publishing, beginning with the story of a book trade party in 1997 to which Kirshbaum, "then the powerful head of Time Warner Book Group, brought a guest: a young online bookseller named Jeffrey P. Bezos, whose ambitions would eventually end up affecting the lives of everybody at the party."

"It was one of those moments in your life where you remember everything," Kirshbaum recalled. "In fact, I think Bezos still owes me an umbrella."

Nearly 15 years--and uncountable industry changes--later, "in the middle of this stew of rancor and mistrust sits Kirshbaum. He was once the ultimate book industry insider, widely known and almost universally liked. He has a well-honed instinct for big, mass-culture books and was thinking about e-books--and losing money on them--long before almost anyone else in the industry. Many of his former peers now consider Kirshbaum a turncoat. In interviews, more than a dozen publishing executives said he had gone over to the dark side; some said they'd conveyed that sentiment to Kirshbaum directly," Blooomberg Businessweek wrote.

"I have a message I really believe in," Kirshbaum countered. "Which is that we're trying to innovate in ways that can help everybody. We are trying to create a tide that will lift all boats."

Bloomberg Businessweek suggested that Amazon may be positioning its publishing division "for a world that is still a few years away, in which a majority of books are distributed electronically. In that world there could be even fewer traditional bookstores than there are now, and Amazon may look a whole lot more appealing to prominent authors. And Larry Kirshbaum could once again be one of the most popular guys in New York."


Winter Institute 7: Book Buying

Beginning with the first Winter Institute in Long Beach, Calif., the ABA has tried to use the event to address the nuts and bolts of bookselling by featuring some of the best professionals in the business. This year, on the topic of book buying, it turned to Paul Yamazaki from City Lights in San Francisco and Arsen Kashkashian from the Boulder Book Store in Colo. to share their best practices.

"I think of this as a tool box," Yamazaki said, "and each one of us has to apply it in our own way." City Lights involves the whole staff in front and backlist buying.  That means each staff member has about 7,000 pieces of catalogue copy to consider. "Having the staff--and particularly the younger staff--involved] is one thing we emphasize as a key practice."

While Boulder takes suggestions from the staff, Kashkashian said it is not the store's practice to share catalogues with everyone. He noted, however, that employees who are fans of certain publishers will be heard in the buying process.

According to Kashkashian, the two most important elements about buying are: knowing what distinguishes your store from all other stores and understanding how a publisher deals with your store and its market.

"Of course, the intersection of those two pieces is the rep," said Kashkashian. Yamazaki concurred, calling publisher sales reps are "our best friends."

Aside from knowing the bookseller's market, reps help booksellers follow the track record of acquiring editors on the bookseller's radar. It is a trickle down kind of relationship that ultimately improves the customer's interaction with the bookstore. A bookseller trusts an editor's track record to take chances on an unknown author, Yamazaki pointed out. In turn, the consumer trusts the bookseller's track record to take a chance on an unknown author. The end result: an enriched indie reading experience not found at a chain store or online.

As nuanced as book buying can be, both buyers acknowledged that it is an integral component of the store's bottom line. "We buy much tighter than we did five years ago, which is true for most of us," observed Yamazaki. City Lights buys 95% directly from publishers to maximize discounts and free shipping incentives. Kashkashian said Boulder's buys were more like 80% direct from publishers to 20% wholesaler.

Both book buyers run reports prior to rep sessions to know what kind of sell through the accounts have had with past titles at their stores. Having such information helps make sure "everybody is on the same page," said Kashkashian, and also keeps reps from running on "auto-pilot."

While it might be good for the reps to go title by title in a buying session, Kashkashian wants an overview. Instead of the 15 debuts reps might want to promote in such a tough fiction climate, he asks for the top five that will work in Boulder.

Still, both veteran book buyers said they readily respond to quick moving titles and drop ins and are always open to new discoveries.

How important is the buying process? Armed with staff feedback, and the track records of editors and publishing houses, Yamazaki said: "For certain publishers for certain titles, we help to start those books." --Bridget Kinsella


Lee & Low Buys Children's Book Press

Lee & Low Books has acquired the assets of Children's Book Press, which was founded in 1975 and specializes in multicultural children's books. Lee & Low now has more than 650 multicultural titles in print.

Founded in 1991, Lee & Low Books includes Tu Books, an imprint for science fiction, fantasy and mystery, and Bebop Books, its education division. Children's Book Press will remain a separate imprint of Lee & Low.

"This is a tremendous honor for us to keep the prestigious collection of Children's Book Press alive, and have the opportunity to build on its 36-year history," said Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low.


Image of the Day: Author-Klezmer Band Revue


Last Sunday, Michele Lang, author of Dark Victory (Tor), and Kenneth Wishnia, author of The Fifth Servant (Morrow) celebrated their books at Book Revue bookstore, Huntington, N.Y. The SRO crowd enjoyed the sounds of the 13th Floor Klezmer Band.

photo courtesy of Michele Lang

Dan Chartrand Runs for Selectman

Dan Chartrand, owner of Water Street Bookstore, Exeter, N.H., may be joining the ranks of bookseller-elected officials, according to the Exeter Patch: he is running for Selectman, the New England version of member of a town's executive board. The election is March 13.

Among booksellers who in recent years have become mayors and held other offices are Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., Richard Howorth of Square Books, Oxford, Miss., and Tom Lowry of Lowry's Books in Three Rivers and Sturgis, Mich.


Jennifer Doerr Goes to Yale

Jennifer Doerr has joined Yale University Press as a senior publicist. She was previously director of publicity at Macmillan Children's Publishing Group and director of publicity at Skyhorse Publishing. She has also held publicity posts at Random House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Globe Pequot Press.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Lori Andrews

Sunday on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered: Lori Andrews, author of I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did (Free Press, $26, 9781451650518).


Books & Authors

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, January 31:

The Fear Index by Robert Harris (Knopf, $25.95, 9780307957931) follows a computer genius and billionaire hedge fund manager whose successful stock trading program puts him in danger.

Jim Henson's Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, illustrated by Ramon Perez (Archaia Entertainment, $29.95, 9781936393091) is the graphic novel adaptation of a screenplay found in the Henson Company archives.

Home Front by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9780312577209) explores the destruction of an already troubled marriage by one spouse's wartime military deployment.

The Family Business by Carl Weber and Eric Pete (Urban Books, $21.95, 9781601624673) takes place in Queens, where a family's car dealership in under threat from organized crime.

Paris Versus New York: A Tally of Two Cities by Vahram Muratyan (Penguin, $20, 9780143120254) is the expanded version of an online travel journal comparing New York to Paris.

Now in paperback:

Lucky Penny by Catherine Anderson (Signet, $7.99, 9780451236036).

Guilty Gucci by Ashley JaQuavis (Urban Books, $14.95, 9781601624819).

Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo (Plume, $15, 9780452297319).

What It Was by George Pelecanos (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books, $9.99, 9780316209540).

A Lady Never Surrenders (The Hellions of Halstead Hall) by Sabrina Jeffries (Pocket, $7.99, 9781451642452).

Book Brahmin: Lauren Winner

Lauren Winner's books include Girl Meets God and Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis, which is just out from HarperOne (January 31, 2012). Winner has degrees from Duke, Columbia and Cambridge universities, and holds a Ph.D. in history. The former book editor for Beliefnet, Lauren teaches at Duke Divinity School and lives in Durham, N.C. Her favorite things include quilts, October weather and her tricycle.

On your nightstand now:

The summer 2001 issue of Lapham's Quarterly--on food; The Sauvignon Secret: A Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby--one of about nine mystery series I read obsessively; Thomas Merton's letters to writers.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Anything in the Sweet Valley High series.

Your top five authors:

Nancy Lemann, Marilyn Hacker, Barbara Hamby, Vida Dutton Scudder, Lauren Slater.

Book you've faked reading:

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell. The economy of Connell's prose kills me.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I recently bought three books I already owned--the copies I had were falling apart paperbacks that I didn't really like reading very much, and when, at the Quail Ridge bookstore in Raleigh, N.C., I saw the new (?) Penguin classics hardbacks, I thought, "I'll enjoy reading Jane Eyre much more if I have that copy." Their editions of Fitzgerald are especially alluring.

Book that changed your life:

At risk of being a total dork, my answer is an article, not a book: Siobhan Garrigan's "Intellectuals in the Public Square." It's very rare that I read a scholarly essay that totally revolutionizes everything--but this article utterly transformed what I know to be happening when I go to church.

Here's a second answer, this one a book: Journeys of Simplicity: Traveling Light with Thomas Merton, Basho, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard & Others by Philip Harnden. This book is, essentially, a collection of lists. My friend Lil recommended it to me in maybe 2004, and I found it uninteresting. Then a few years later, I picked it up again and (to borrow the old Quaker phrase) it really spoke to my condition. In my own life--my personal life, my spiritual life--I had come to a place of total crisis and despair, where, willy-nilly, I was traveling light because most of the things I had been accustomed to having as traveling companions had dissolved or died or shriveled up. The book itself became my traveling companion.

Favorite line from a book:

"[T]he great world of suburbanism come[s] to its fullest and most vivid realization in Clapham.... This is the intention and lesson of Clapham--that man was born a little lower than the angels, and has been descending into suburbanism ever since." --The Suburbans by Thomas William Hodgson Crosland.

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

E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver quartet. Lockhart has to be one of the sharpest YA authors out there. I read the Ruby novels last summer--it was one of those panting experiences, in which I finished one book and, whatever city I was in, I headed to the local bookstore to search for the next installment. I didn't want to leave Ruby's company or Lockhart's prose, and I felt bereft when the quartet ended.

Book that keeps surprising you with new layers of meaning each time you read it:

Straight Man by Richard Russo. This is academic satire at its best. The first time I read it, I simply reveled in the humor--I laughed out loud the whole way through. On each of three subsequent re-readings, though, I keep realizing that it's much more than a smart send-up. It's incredibly wise about human nature, about frailty.

Most horrifying moment while reading a book:

About two years ago, I was rereading Dorothy Sayers's Have His Carcase, and I realized that I was now older than Harriet Vane. It was a sad day.

Favorite book about books:

U and I by Nicholson Baker.


Book Review

Review: Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber (Simon & Schuster, $25 hardcover, 9781451618068, February 7, 2012)

Doron Weber's memoir Immortal Bird begins with a simple moment of parental unease: during a stroll up a Brooklyn avenue, Weber senses that his 12-year-old son, Damon, is overdue for a growth spurt. Weber cannot help being extra-vigilant about his firstborn, a "blue baby" whose heart lacked a second ventricle, requiring two open-heart surgeries by the age of four. The second operation, a variation on the Fontan procedure, re-routed Damon's under-oxygenated blood past the missing pump area directly to his lungs where it could pick up oxygen and discharge carbon dioxide. With more oxygen-rich blood, Damon flourished for eight years, but unfortunately his father's worry proves significant: he has also developed protein-losing enteropathy (PLE), a rare and insidious post-surgical condition in pediatric Fontan patients which causes vital protein molecules to leak out of the digestive system. With no fail-safe treatment, the PLE diagnosis forces Doron and Shealagh Weber into a morass of medical decision-making while their son strives to lead the life of a typical teenager.

Weber, a program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, intersperses family vignettes with doctor appointments and short, well-parsed explanations as he investigates Damon's options. Weber's fearless questioning of experts is a primer of parent advocacy that demonstrates the awful responsibility of managing the care of a child who suffers from a poorly understood life-threatening disease. Even as the urgency of Damon's PLE intensifies, Weber finds moments of family joy and admires his son's determination to keep the hospital part of his life in the background. Excerpts from Damon's blog bring the teenager's witty and tough-tender voice into the memoir, including notes on filming his cameo on Deadwood and musings on how his health challenges might limit his goals for high school.

Immortal Bird's momentum and the author's prose style peak in the last third of the memoir, as the Webers make a brave and wise decision only to end up battling an overstretched hospital and a villainously cavalier doctor. In the dramatic and unforgettable debacle that ensues, Damon and his parents achieve moments of devastating grace. By writing Immortal Bird, Weber has transformed his family's experience of medical strife into a work of art that teaches us how to advocate, how to love and how to transcend the unthinkable. --Holloway McCandless

Shelf Talker: Immortal Bird is at once the compelling narrative of a father's quest to save his son; a memoir of family grace; and a profile of a teenager whose wit and stoicism transcend his illness.



Over a Barol

In our coverage of the Winter Institute, we mentioned a presentation by Richard Mason, author of History of a Pleasure Seeker (Knopf), about his Orson and Company, which creates digital apps. Inadvertently we gave the wrong URL for a preview of the book: the correct one is Our apologies.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Vonnegut vs. Exley in Literary Super Bowl XLVI

Last week, poet and City Lights bookstore co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti stood firmly, if fruitlessly, behind his San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC championship, telling the New York Times: "I think they’ll beat the Giants easily, no problem. Their players are smarter and faster. Their coach is smarter. Of course, what do I know? I’m no expert on football."

The Awl countered Ferlinghetti with some deft literary prognosticating of its own, correctly picking the Giants over the 49ers, as well as the New England Patriots over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship, while employing the poetic forms villanelle and sestina respectively to enhance the selections:

The wind at Candlestick will blow in from the shore
If the passing games are off that might be the reason.
But does Eli Manning have more miracles in store?

As it turned out, Eli did have more miracles, and just three days after the 103rd birthday of Baltimore's ill-favored favorite son Edgar Allan Poe, the Ravens--named for the ominous "ebony bird" in his classic poem--saw their season fall from the sky. Quoth the Patriots (I cannot resist this temptation), "Nevermore."  

Even the tabloids have been in a literary mood. Last Friday, the New York Daily News offered a pre-game book recommendation under the headline: "If the Giants beat the 49ers, what will you read to celebrate?"

As a football literary equivalent to baseball's The Natural by Bernard Malamud, the News suggested Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, in which he wrote:

Why did football bring me so to life. I can't say precisely. Part of it was my feeling that football was an island of directness in a world of circumspection. In football a man was asked to do a difficult and brutal job, and he either did it or got out. There was nothing rhetorical or vague about it; I chose to believe that it was not unlike the jobs which all men, in some sunnier past, had been called upon to do. It smacked of something old, something traditional, something unclouded by legerdemain and subterfuge. It had that kind of power over me, drawing me back with the force of something known, scarcely remembered, elusive as integrity--perhaps it was no more than the force of a forgotten childhood. Whatever it was, I gave myself up to the Giants utterly. The recompense I gained was the feeling of being alive.

Would Exley even recognize the game and business of professional football now? A Fan's Notes was published in 1968. The first Super Bowl, a relatively modest affair played in 1967, was the only one not to sell out, literally if not figuratively.

Since the Giants and Patriots are now headed to Indianapolis for Super Bowl Sunday on February 5, perhaps this year's literary gridiron spokesperson should be the late Kurt Vonnegut, an Indianapolis native. A Washington Post preview of the Super Bowl city highlighted its year-old, "small but fascinating for literary lovers," Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and noted that a "giant mural of Vonnegut looms over the 300 block of Massachusetts Avenue."

My own intensive research leads me to believe he might back New England. In Slapstick, he wrote: "Mother and I surely did not oppose Eliza and her lawyer in any way, so she easily regained control of her wealth. And nearly the first thing she did was to buy half-interest in the New England Patriots professional football team."

And then there's evidence he rooted against the Giants some years ago. In Keeping Literary Company: Working With Writers Since the Sixties, Jerome Klinkowitz recalls visiting the author at his Manhattan apartment during a Giants-Minnesota Vikings playoff game: "And so my first hour with Kurt Vonnegut was spent in the shared presence of America's most popular culture of the moment, a highly touted football game on TV with the season's most expensive commercials washing over us every ten or twelve minutes."

Klinkowitz noted that as Vonnegut analyzed the game, CBS's camera angles and the timing of commercial breaks, it "was interesting to see Kurt both within his culture and rising above it to make structural comments on how it worked. Here was a writer of all those stories for Colliers' and the Post, plus we were seeing the graduate-trained anthropologist watching humankind at play and the scientist adept at chemistry, biology, and mechanical engineering, fascinated with the tinkering behind how things worked."
A Midwesterner at heart, Vonnegut was pleased to see the Vikings beat the Giants that day. So perhaps the literary lines can now be drawn for Super Bowl XLVI: Exley's Giants against Vonnegut's Patriots. Ladies and gentlemen, place your fictional bets.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

KidsBuzz: Highwater Press: Heart Berry Bling by Jenny Kay Dupuis, illus. by Eva Campbell
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