Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Flatiron Books: White Horse by Erika T. Wurth

Holiday House: Owl and Penguin (I Like to Read Comics) by Vikram Madan; Noodleheads Take it Easy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Blackstone Publishing: Ezra Exposed by Amy E. Feldman

Clavis: Fall Preview

Amulet Books: Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party (Marya Khan #1) by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Ani Bushry

Charlesbridge Publishing: Abuelita and I Make Flan by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom; Brand-New Bubbe by Sarah Aronson, illustrated by Ariel Landy

Shadow Mountain: To Capture His Heart (Proper Romance Victorian) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Quotation of the Day

'A Place for People to Read' in South Sudan

"Literacy rates are very low in South Sudan. It's to create a way for people to see that reading is a pleasurable thing; it's something that can give you some advantage personally and professionally....

"Most people do not read even if they want to read, because their houses are crowded, they don't have private space. Electricity is another issue. In Juba in the evenings, children gather around security guard compounds just so they can read and study. We'd love to be able to fill that gap in providing a place for people to read, whether for pleasure or for study."

--Awak Bior, founder of Leaves Bookshop in Juba, from a Guardian piece headlined "The Booksellers of South Sudan"

University of California Press: Dictee (Second Edition, Reissue, Restored);  Exilee and Temps Morts: Selected Works (First Edition, Reissue) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha


AAP Sales: Increase Led by Children's/YA

In the first seven months of the year, total net book sales rose 9.4%, to $8.343 billion, compared to the first seven months of 2013, representing sales of 1,209 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. 

Among highlights: children's/YA continued to grow this year, with sales up 25.8%, $957.9 million, while adult sales have slipped 2.2%, to $2.460 billion. Total trade sales are up 4.1%, to $3.718 billion. K-12 has risen 21.5%, to $2.117 billion. Higher Ed is up 10.9%, to $2.067 billion.

Total trade e-book sales rose 7.5%, to $936.9 million. Trade paperbacks were up 5.3%, to $1.139 billion. Trade hardcover sales were down 0.3%, to $1.149 million. (Note: trade excludes downloadable audio and children's board books.)

By category for January-July 2014:



% Change

 Children's/YA e-books

 $150.9 million


 Children's board books

 $42.5 million


 Downloaded audio

 $88.7 million


 Religious e-books

 $39.3 million


 Children's/YA paperbacks

 $353.9 million



 $2.117 billion


 Children's/YA hardcovers

 $371.9 million


 Higher Ed

 2.067 billion


 University press e-books

 $7.4 million


 Religious paperbacks

 $51.1 million


 Adult e-books

 $746.7 million





 Professional publishing

 $368.1 million


 Adult paperbacks

 $736.4 million


 University hardcovers

 $22.8 million


 University paperbacks

 $27.4 million


 Religious hardcovers

 $165.3 million


 Mass market

 $193.4 million


 Adult hardcovers

 $611.6 million


 Physical audiobooks

 $32.4 million



Blair: A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter by Carolyn Hays

New Co-Owner for Portland's Broadway Books

Broadway Books, Portland, Ore., has found its new co-owner. In June, the bookshop announced that Roberta Dyer was retiring and Sally McPherson would be seeking a new business partner. Yesterday, Kim Bissell, who has been working at the store since September, was introduced as the new co-owner. To celebrate the change, Broadway Books will host a party November 9 to "reminisce about the past and speculate about the future."

Bissell "brings to the store an enthusiastic spirit, a head full of ideas and plans, a willingness to work hard, a warm and friendly personality, and the skill to learn quickly," Broadway Books noted in its announcement. "Although this is her first bookstore gig, she is no stranger to bookstores. She even met her husband in a bookstore! She's also (no small point) a voracious and eclectic reader. We knew the first time we sat down with her that she was a book person down to her bones. We could not be happier that we found just the right person."

Dyer also shared some thoughts about this transition in her book life, noting that "as I prepare to hang up my professional hat, I am struck by what this community has meant to me. I have been a bookseller since I finished college in 1970. That's 44 years of slinging stories. Almost exactly half of those years have been spent behind the counter, in front of the counter, and lurking in the aisles--helping customers, ordering books, receiving books, shelving books and selling books at 1714 NE Broadway. It has been a pleasure, a challenge, a wild ride, a great deal of fun, and most of all a privilege to be the owner of your neighborhood bookstore.

Roberta Dyer, who's retiring, with partners Kim Bissell and Sally McPherson.

"I have not done this alone. I have been blessed with an incredible staff and two amazing business partners. Gloria Borg Olds, with whom I opened the store in 1992, staggered with me through some lean years and celebrated some more successful years. We held hands through it all and were fond of saying that a business partnership was like a marriage, only more polite. Sally McPherson, my partner for almost eight years now, came to me as a longtime book industry professional and saved my life. If not for her, I'm sure the store would have closed when the lease was up. She breathed new energy into the business and in the process, became my dear friend. She is without a doubt the best book person I know....

"I am so excited for Sally and Kim's new adventure together! I know there will be some changes made. That makes me happy! Part of the reason the store is still here is that we have changed with the times, and of that I am extremely proud. I look forward to seeing what happens next at Broadway Books! I know you do, too."

Graphic Mundi - Psu Press: Hakim's Odyssey by Fabien Toulme and Hanna Chute

French Culture Minister's Reading Credentials Questioned

Fleur Pellerin, who has been the culture minister in France for just two months, "sparked controversy after admitting she hasn't read for pleasure in the past two years," the Bookseller reported, adding that the minister's comments inspired a frenzied Twitter debate as well as a call for her resignation from one journalist.

The reading scandale was prompted by a Canal+ TV interview last Sunday during which Pellerin was asked which book by Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Patrick Modiano was her favorite. "I admit without any problem that I have had no time to read over the past two years," she replied. "I read a lot of notes, and legislative documents. I read a lot of news, but I read [for pleasure] very little."

Ebony Magazine Publishing: Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments by Carell Augustus

For Sale: Unpublished Manuscript by S&S Co-Founder

Fools Give You Reasons, an unpublished manuscript written by Simon & Schuster co-founder Richard Simon in the 1950s "about his life in publishing and changes in the business over three decades," is being sold by James Cummins Bookseller in New York City for $5,000, FishbowlNY reported. Potential buyers can "read what Simon had to say about a certain lunch, and the keys to publishing a bestseller" on a sample page the bookseller has posted from the "84-page marked-up professional memoir." 

NCIBA: Session Sampler

Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Booksellers Association, said the organizers of last week's trade show were "pleasantly surprised" by the increased attendance at the educational and rep picks sessions during the two-day conference.

Everyone's a Critic author Bill Tancer and ABA president Steve Bercu discussed how bookstores can leverage online reviews.

American Booksellers Association president Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., interviewed Bill Tancer in a session on his new book, Everyone's a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World (Portfolio, Oct.). Tancer is the general manager for global research for Experian Marketing Services and author of Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters (Hyperion). Like all authors, Tancer said, he became obsessed and distracted by his online reviews. Then, when the volcano eruption in Iceland turned a one-day London trip into a 12-day stay, he said he used the time to study the customer service habits of Hotel 41 and its Trip Advisor­-obsessed staff and managers. The experience led him to interview more than 100 businesses for his new book.

Getting right to the meat of things, Bercu said that he understood why hotels and restaurants have to pay attention to online reviews, but wondered how the subject applied to bookstores. "It's not just about getting people into your stores," said Tancer. "It's about competitive intelligence." He advised booksellers to check the Yelp reviews for industry leaders to learn what things they do well and discover areas to improve at their own stores. Should businesses respond to bad reviews, a bookseller asked. Tancer said it's always good to respond with an "open door" attitude and in a way that reinforces the store's "value proposition." The angry Yelper might not be persuaded, but a reasonable response will affect how others perceive the store. Besides, Tancer added, a few one-star reviews make the positive reviews seem more credible.

One thing not to do, Tancer said, is ask customers to post on Yelp. But he suggested bookstores might display a few positive online reviews to show you read them and value them. Nearly every business owner he interviewed for Everyone's a Critic said they hated online reviews, and they could recite the negative ones verbatim. With 86% of consumers using online reviews, Tancer said, they can no longer be ignored.

Best shirts of the show: Books Inc.'s Nick Petrulakis, for obvious groovy reasons, and Abrams's Andy Weiner, because this shirt for The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett, Jory John and Kevin Cornell was the hottest giveaway at the regionals this season.

In a session called "The Care and Keeping of Buyers," panelists Paul Yamazaki from City Lights, Christin Evans from Booksmith and Kepler's, and Melinda Powers from Bookshop Santa Cruz--a group known for their thoughtful insights on the literary merits of books--turned to the more practical and analytical aspects of book buying.

At City Lights--which Yamazaki described as "primarily a backlist store"--he said they treat every new hire as a potential buyer, and encourage the entire staff to look at catalogues. "We want them focused more on the books, and the metrics is more my job," said Yamazaki. City Lights orders 97% of its titles directly from publishers to maximize discounts and keeps returns down to 4%--to the envy of just about every book buyer in the room.

Evans said that Booksmith's and Kepler's 15%-20% returns rate "feels high." She orders from wholesalers daily to manage the inventory of both stores. Booksmith and Kepler's also see their section managers as part of the buying team, which she said is a policy that "feeds on itself," resulting in more shelf talkers and greater attention to returns.

Powers became the frontlist buyer at Bookshop Santa Cruz just six months ago, having previously worked at Capitola Book Café. Powers said Edelweiss is one of her most valuable tools because it lets her see comp-titles comparison and analyze publisher lists whenever she wants.

At the closing reception, Book Passage's Luisa Smith with Sophie Littlefield and her forthcoming The Missing Place (Gallery).

Yamazaki prefers "martini-spill-resistant" paper catalogues, and added that rep-provided information about excitement for titles both internally at a house and in the field is the kind of "insider" information that helps a buyer know when to stick to budget and when to be more flexible and take a chance on a book. "We probably have one of the best rep pools in the country," he said.

NCIBA tried something new with its reps this year. In addition to asking them to present tips on titles in packed rep pick sessions, it asked the reps to place "Discover Me" tabs on books in their booth and then had attendees to fill out forms listing their top Discover Me titles from the trade show floor. "As befitting a group of independent booksellers," said Landon, "the range of titles mentioned as favorites is extraordinary and shows no bias toward large or small houses."

The four Discover Me titles with most votes were: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (FSG), Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes by Courtney Burns et al. (Chronicle), What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby (Phaidon) and The Ultimate Construction Site Book by Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic (Twirl/Chronicle). While Landon said the number of returned Discover Me forms was not huge, he added, "For a new idea in its first year, we were pleased with the overall response and will reprise it next year." --Bridget Kinsella



Image of the Day: George R.R. Martin Visits H.P. Lovecraft

George RR MartinGeorge R.R. Martin and Tom Doherty, president and publisher of Tor Books, were in Providence, R.I., last Thursday to receive Brown University Library's inaugural Harris Award--which "celebrates the influence of literature in pop culture"--and took the opportunity to visit H.P. Lovecraft's grave.

Happy Birthday, Charis Books & More!

Congratulations to independent feminist bookstore Charis Books & More, Atlanta, Ga., which is celebrating four decades in business next month. Beginning November 8, Charis will host special birthday events throughout the next year, noted GA Voice, which interviewed Charis Circle executive director Elizabeth Anderson. Among the highlights:

What does it mean to Charis to reach its 40th anniversary?
We have been so honored to be a part of Atlanta's LGBTQ, feminist, and progressive literary scene since 1974. It is significant for any bookstore or community space to reach its 40th anniversary because so much of our culture has been moving away from investing in media as objects. First many record stores closed, then bookstores, then video stores and movie theaters.

We are all for the digital content revolution but what folks often don't realize is that when we lose the stores we lose the communal gathering spaces around which we build new ideas and culture....

What has contributed to Charis's success?
We have loyal, interested, committed customers who seek us out for our selection because they know they can trust the books we place in their hands. We also have a very strong nonprofit programming arm, Charis Circle, which creates over 200 diverse events a year.

From the expected offerings like book groups, author readings, and writing groups, to the very unexpected: Sunday morning yoga, health and wellness programs, cooking demos, spirituality groups, anti-racist workshops, trans youth support groups, teen 'zine making classes and so much more.

We have also been successful mostly because it is a blood sweat and tears effort on the part of many community volunteers, board members, and especially our staff. Co-owners Sara Look and Angela Gabriel work very hard to be as responsive as possible to the community's needs.

Memorial Service for Jane Queller Planned

A memorial service celebrating the life of Jane Queller, who died on October 12, will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday, December 21, at JCC of Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, 7th floor.

Donations may be made in her memory to Housing Works, whose efforts on behalf of people with AIDS and the homeless Jane admired and supported. The Housing Works donation page is here.

Queller was former national accounts manager at Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, national accounts manager at Continuum and Yale University Press and a manager at several bookstores: Labyrinth Books, Paperbacks Plus, New York University Bookstore and Borders.

Personnel Changes at Macmillan, Simon & Schuster

At Macmillan Children's Publishing Group:

Allison Verost has promoted to v-p, publicity. Previously she was director of publicity.
Molly Brouillette has been promoted to associate director, publicity. Previously she was publicity manager.
Mary Van Akin has been promoted to senior publicist. Previously, she was a publicist.


Jodie Hockensmith has joined the Simon & Schuster Children's Publicity Department as associate director of publicity, overseeing the publicity campaigns for Aladdin, Simon Pulse, Little Simon, Simon Spotlight, Beach Lane Books and Paula Wiseman imprints. She was most recently associate publicity manager at Random House Children's Books.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Diane von Furstenberg on CBS This Morning

Tomorrow morning on CBS This Morning: Diane von Furstenberg, author of The Woman I Wanted to Be (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781451651546).


Tomorrow on Tavis Smiley: Matt Bai, author of All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid (Knopf, $26.95, 9780307273383).


Tomorrow on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS: Sam Harris, author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781451636017).


Tomorrow night on Charlie Rose: Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford, authors of Rendez-Vous with Art (Thames & Hudson, $35, 9780500239247).


Tomorrow night on Late Night with Seth Meyers: Brad Meltzer, author of I Am Albert Einstein (Dial, $12.99, 9780803740846).

Movies: Same Kind of Different as Me; Paddington

Greg Kinnear (Heaven Is for Real), Djimon Hounsou and Jon Voight will join Renee Zellweger in Same Kind of Different as Me, based on the nonfiction book by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent, the Hollywood Reporter wrote. Directed by Michael Carney from a screenplay he co-wrote with Alexander Foard and Hall, the movie began production in Jackson, Miss., this week.


In the latest trailer for the upcoming movie based on Michael Bond's beloved children's book series, Paddington shows off its new "bear-voice" (thanks to Ben Wishaw, who stepped in after Colin Firth expressed doubts about his own ursine vocal abilities), the Film Stage reported.

"As soon as Ben's voice and Paddington came together, we really felt our bear was coming to life," said producer David Heyman. Paddington opens November 28 in the U.K. and January 16 in the U.S.

Books & Authors

Q&A: Mark Polizzotti, Translator of Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano

Mark Polizzotti is an author, editor, translator, reviewer and head of the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His books include the collaborative novel S., Lautréamont Nomad, Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton, Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados and Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New Republic, ARTnews, the Nation, Parnassus, Partisan Review and elsewhere. He has been an editor at Random House, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, David R. Godine and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. And he has translated more than 40 books from the French, including works by Gustave Flaubert, Marguerite Duras, Raymond Roussel, André Breton, Jean Echenoz--and Patrick Modiano, who earlier this month won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Polizzotti's translation of Modiano's Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas is being published by Yale University Press next month. Here George Carroll, independent publishers rep and Shelf Awareness world literature editor, asks some questions about Modiano, the art of translating and more.

When you were translating Suspended Sentences, did you imagine that Modiano would become a Nobel Laureate?

No, and it's just as well: I might unconsciously have layered on a bit too much grandeur. Let's say I was pleasantly surprised. Not that I don't feel he deserves it--far from it. But Modiano is not a writer of grand gestures, as some previous laureates have been. His work doesn't aim for the international sweep and journalistic earnestness of a Le Clézio, for instance, and certainly not the grandstanding philosophical aggressiveness of a Sartre (or even of a Camus, though Modiano's and Camus's writings often share a certain modesty of tone). There is an understated, almost matter-of-fact quality about Modiano's books that makes them very strong--a quiet strength--but that doesn't necessarily attract the notice of big prize committees. (That said, his work has won virtually all the major French literary awards, including the Goncourt.) I was surprised when I heard the news the way I was surprised when Elfriede Jelinek won--another author whose work stands outside the mainstream, and, as it happens, another whom I'd published, back when I was an editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson (we did her first book in English, The Piano Teacher, which was later made into a film).

At the same time, let's not forget that the main subject underlying virtually all of Modiano's work is the greatest historical calamity and human tragedy suffered by France (and not just France, of course) in the 20th century: the Second World War, not only for the overt horrors it visited on so many lives, but also--and in some ways even more so--for the insidious moral devastation of the Occupation, the troubling questions it continues to raise even today. This is the stain that permeates his narratives, whether they take place during the war years or, as is more often the case, in the decades following. Still, these questions don't necessarily mean the same thing to people born several generations after the fact, and I believe that it's the indirect way Modiano addresses them--in the ambiguous choices his characters make or don't make, the way they drift into the most equivocal situations (as with the protagonist of Lacombe Lucien)--that makes his books relevant to contemporary audiences.

Did you work directly with Modiano on the translation? Is he fluent in English?

Modiano had little to do with the translation itself--I believe Yale sent the manuscript to him when it was done, and I'm told he's pleased with it--but he did answer a few questions about specific details, personal references that I wasn't sure I'd gotten right, and provided a few pieces of information that I needed for my introduction. Having written to him through his publisher, I received a cordial, extensive, handwritten letter, which I thought was very gracious of him. Overall, however, we haven't had any contact to speak of, though I'd love to meet him at some point.

Were the three novellas previously translated into English?  If so, did you read them or dive right in?

No, this is the first time these three have been translated. About 10 books of Modiano's have been published in English, out of nearly three dozen that he's written, and I had read most of the ones previously translated well before undertaking the ones for Yale, so I had a general sense of how Modiano might sound in English (even though nearly every book was the work of a different translator). I have retranslated books that had previously been done in English--Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet and Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa--but in both those cases I made a point of not reading the other translations beforehand so as not to be unconsciously influenced.

Where does Modiano place in the difficulty scale of the authors you've translated from the French? Were there words, phrases, colloquialisms that were a challenge?

That's a key question. People often assume that more avant-garde texts, the ones that rely on word games and verbal pyrotechnics, are the most difficult, but I usually find that it's the "simplest" writings that pose the biggest challenges. Translating the experimental ones that can be tricky, but often it comes down to re-creating the pun in a different way--of substituting cleverness for cleverness. In the case of someone like Modiano, much of the pleasure comes from the naturalness of the voice, from the keen linguistic instinct that allows him to craft sentences and dialogue that come across as absolutely spot-on--and that can be murder to get right. Because as a translator, you're trying to juggle meaning, rhythm, cultural resonance and verbal music, and somehow make it all sound just as natural in an entirely different language and context. Of course, to some extent this is a challenge that every translator faces with every text. But when dealing with a voice as seemingly straightforward and unadorned as Modiano's, which manages to say highly resonant things with great simplicity and great beauty, finding exactly the right tone and pitch in which to recreate them in English can be the hardest part.

Patrick Modiano

Modiano vaulted over some odds-on favorites to win, including Bob Dylan. You wrote the 33 1/3 book Highway 61 Revisited. What's more daunting: translating from French or writing about the iconic album of the '60s?

I greatly enjoyed writing Highway 61 Revisited, probably more than I've enjoyed writing anything in my life, but all things considered I'd much rather be translating. There's a pure pleasure to translating, an experience of unadulterated craft, of unalloyed engagement with the plasticity of language. I like writing, but when you have to devote your attention to the content as well as the expression, it's a different experience. Gregory Rabassa once said that the translator can be considered the ideal writer because he doesn't have to worry about things like plot and character; since all that has already been provided, "he can just sit down and write his ass off." When I translate someone like Modiano, or Jean Echenoz, or even Flaubert and Roussel, and can immerse myself comfortably in their verbal space, I find it invigorating, challenging in the best sense, to try to re-create that space in another idiom. Sure it can be daunting: I mentioned somewhere that translating Bouvard and Pécuchet was like having Flaubert's ghost on my shoulder for a year, waiting to pounce on every deviation from the mot juste. But it's also immensely satisfying.

Did you acquire the three Modiano books for David R. Godine when you were editorial director there?

David and I were talking about this the other day. Funnily enough, he remembers that I acquired the books, and I remember that he acquired them. I do know that I worked on Honeymoon while I was an editor at Godine, which I put into our Verba Mundi translation series, and which remains one of my favorite books by Modiano (along with its nonfiction pendant, Dora Bruder). I'm pretty sure that David acquired the children's book Catherine Certitude, which he asked me to translate, though I couldn't at the time. Instead, it was done, beautifully, by the excellent William Rodarmor.

Is it true that you fell into translation by accident?

As with most good things in life, it was entirely unexpected. I've told the story elsewhere, but the short version is, I was in France at the age of 17 and found myself across a table from the experimental novelist Maurice Roche, whom I'd barely met, and the only ice-breaker I could think of on the spur of the moment was to offer to translate his book--which I'd barely understood. To my amazement, Maurice took me up on it, and inadvertently set me on my life of crime. That was 40 years ago and I still haven't reformed. There's more to it, of course, and if anyone's interested the full story is in a piece I wrote called "Memento Maurice."

You're given translation credit on the jacket of Suspended Sentences. I wish all publishers would do that. It's important, yes?

It's important not only as a mark of respect for the translator's task but also as an acknowledgment that the book you're holding in your hands is a collaboration. It's not the same as the original, but is by necessity a reinterpretation, one person's reading and re-creation of the original. There has been a lot of ink spilled over whether translation is "possible," whether reading a translation can ever approximate reading the original, how much is "lost," etc., etc. What most of these discussions leave aside is the fact that every reading is imperfect, even in the original language; that every reader, like every translator, both "loses" something in experiencing an author's work (through misunderstanding, or inattention, or personal bias) and at the same time brings something to it that no one else could. When it comes to translating, my English Modiano is no more "definitive" than Barbara Wright's, or Daniel Weissbort's, or anyone else who has translated him. Suspended Sentences is Modiano filtered through Polizzotti--though, if I've done my job, filtered in a way that lets an Anglophone reader experience Modiano's work the way a French reader would experience it in the original, with the same understanding and emotional impact. So to get back to your question after this minor diatribe, yes, it's important to identify the translator up front (for praise or blame, depending), and also to acknowledge that this edition is the product of a second writer's reinterpretation. The small literary houses and university presses, including Yale, have generally been very good about this; the larger commercial publishers, which tend to brush the book's foreign origins under the rug (when they publish translations at all), not so good.

On that score, Yale will kill me if I don't mention that it has set November 11 as the pub date--the day World War I ended, though whether that's by design or coincidence, I don't know.

You have a pretty serious day job at the Met. Do you sleep?

With enormous pleasure.

Awards: Bard Fiction; NSK Neustadt for Children's Lit

Laura van den Berg won the $30,000 Bard Fiction Prize, which was established in 2001 "to encourage and support promising young fiction writers," for her story collection The Isle of Youth. In addition to the cash award, the winner receives an appointment as writer-in-residence for one semester at Bard College.

The prize committee noted that van den Berg's stories "are at once subtle and in extremis, as if the author were able to pressure-cook scenarios in which strangeness becomes uncomfortably familiar, and the seemingly 'normal' is unveiled as being, well, not so terribly normal. Her technical skills are beyond abundant and yet so complex as to be nearly erased during the act of reading. This is a writer of the first order, someone who pushes aside any notion of trendiness; a writer who has emerged on the literary scene full-voiced, and ready to knock down some walls."  


Meshack Asare won the $25,000 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, presented by World Literature Today. Born in Ghana and currently residing in Germany, Asare is "considered one of Africa's most influential children's authors," organizers noted, adding that the representative text cited was "the multiple award-winning picture book Kwajo and the Brassman's Secret, an Ashanti tale about wisdom versus the temptation of riches, distributed by African Books Collective."

Book Brahmin: Charlie Lovett

Charlie Lovett has written fiction (The Bookman's Tale), written and edited more than a dozen volumes of nonfiction and written 20 plays for children, which have been seen around the world in more than 3,000 productions. Lovett served as writer in residence at Summit School in Winston-Salem, N.C., for more than a decade. He is an avid collector of rare books, particularly on the life and times of Lewis Carroll. His fourth novel is First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen (Viking, October 16, 2014).

On your nightstand now:

My wife and I are hosting the author party for the upcoming Bookmarks book festival here in Winston-Salem, so I've been enjoying reading some of the books by authors who are coming. I most recently finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman and look forward to reading the rest of that trilogy.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My tastes evolved (or in some cases devolved) as I got older--and also as I acquired younger brothers. I was a big fan of The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) and the Narnia books (C.S. Lewis). We had a battered copy of The Hobbit in our mountain home, and I often started the summer by revisiting Middle Earth. I read Narnia again and again as well. I didn't notice the Christian allegory when I first read them, but by the time I was a teenager I was pretentiously taking notes in the margins. I also loved reading Dr. Seuss (in particular The Sneetches and Other Stories) and Curious George (Margret and H.A. Rey) to my little brothers.

Your top five authors:

An almost impossible question to answer, but I can say that some of my favorite authors are Charles Dickens, A.S. Byatt, John Irving, Bill Bryson and David Lodge. (There are many, many more.) Together they have held me enthralled for thousands of hours. They've made me laugh, cry, hold my breath and, above all, think.

Book you've faked reading:

Sad to say, but in college there were a lot of these. I suppose the one I still feel most guilty about is Walden (Henry David Thoreau). I loved spending time outdoors, and this book, to my collegiate self, failed to capture the excitement of the experience.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I try to recommend books I think particular readers will enjoy. That being said, the book I've probably most often recommended is Possession by A.S. Byatt. I read it in my 20s for the first time, then came to it again in graduate school where it was a part of my thesis. I'm not a huge poetry fan, but I discovered that if I read the poetic passages aloud I really enjoyed them.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Foolscap by Michael Malone. It has an open theater curtain on the cover, along with a map that is clearly of part of my home state of North Carolina. It's a great book, too--funny and literate. I've read it a couple of times.

Book that changed your life:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I started collecting Alice as a young man and now have a house filled with thousands of books and other items related to this book and its author. I've written several books and many articles on Lewis Carroll. More importantly, my interest in Alice and in Lewis Carroll has taken me on travels around the world and introduced me to many of the people who are now my oldest and dearest friends. And without my interest in book collecting, I never would have written The Bookman's Tale or First Impressions.

Favorite line from a book:

Again, an impossible question--it's like asking, "What is your favorite glass of water?" But the one that popped into my head when I read the question was the last line of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It seems to mean something different every time I read it, and it is such hauntingly beautiful prose. And I suppose it says something that I can quote it verbatim.

Which character you most relate to:

As a child, I think I related to Huck Finn. I loved the idea of just taking off into the wilderness. We lived in a remote mountain house in the summertime, and I spent a lot of my days tromping around in the woods and building hideouts. I thought Huck and I would get along just fine. Ironically, my first big stage role was Tom Sawyer in the fourth grade--but I always liked Huck better.

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

The World According to Garp by John Irving. I was 19 and traveling through Europe with a friend--backpacks, rail passes and cheap guest houses. I binge-read the last hundred pages or so in a little hotel in Zermatt after taking a hike in the Alps. The book connected perfectly with the joy of being completely independent, thousands of miles from home, in a time when there were no cell phones or e-mail. I'd like to live that whole day again.

Favorite item in your book collection:

I really enjoy walking into the library and pulling a book off the shelf. I like remembering how I bought that particular volume--the stories of booksellers and fellow collectors it brings to mind. If I had to pick a favorite item from a collection of thousands of books, pamphlets, letters, playbills, sheet music, photographs, etc. I think I would actually pick a nonprinted item: Lewis Carroll's own 1888 Hammond Number 1 typewriter. In the early 1990s, I wrote an article about how Carroll had obtained and used this early typing machine, but I had no idea it still existed. When his typewriter came up for auction 20 years later, I was lucky enough to be the high bidder.

Book Review

YA Review: Isabel's War

Isabel's War by Lila Perl (Lizzie Skurnick/Ig Publishing, $18.95 hardcover, 228p., ages 12-up, 9781939601360; $12.95 paper, 9781939601278, November 25, 2014)

Lila Perl (who died last December, shortly after completing Isabel's War and its upcoming sequel, Lilli's Quest) travels territory rarely seen in children's books: the American homefront during WWII, in a Jewish-American family.

Through 12-year-old Isabel Brandt's first-person narrative, readers learn how the war affects her family and friends' daily lives in the summer of 1942. Inconveniences, such as a lack of supplies, soon evolve into growing anxiety on behalf of loved ones: Isabel's brother, Arnold, enlists in the Army Air Force, and silence from her best friend Sibby's father could mean damage--or worse--to his ship. Isabel also becomes aware of Hitler's horrors through her growing friendship with Helga, the niece of dear family friends, who flees Germany via the Kindertransport to England. She is the only one in her family to escape.

Readers witness Isabel's transformation from a normal, self-concerned pre-adolescent to an increasingly compassionate and thoughtful friend. Perl (Four Perfect Pebbles) does not shy away from the hard-hitting facts of Helga's experiences, which the older teen gradually confides to Isabel as their trust deepens. But the author also balances these sobering situations with the rewards of blossoming romance for Helga, and the humor and timeless questions behind Isabel's first exposure to boy-girl exchanges. When Billy Crosby takes Isabel to Hansen's Drugstore, she wonders, "Does his having bought me a cherry Coke mean that I am bound to him in some way? Am I no longer free to be me?"

Perl deftly mirrors Isabel's growing understanding of the tragic situation in Europe with readers' own discomfort. At one point, Isabel says, "All this information about what's been going on in Germany is giving me the heebie-jeebies." The author plumbs the warring emotions within Isabel as she simultaneously feels envious of Helga's beauty and the attention she gets from boys, yet sympathetic to her isolation in the U.S. and separation from her family, whose fates are likely tragic. She's a narrator with whom every reader can sympathize. And Perl connects these character flaws with Isabel's ultimate heroism in tracking down Helga, who has an ongoing desire to run away (Isabel uncovers Helga's hidden letters and puts together a few details to figure out the teen's whereabouts).

Readers will look forward to learning more about Isabel, Sibby and their new German friend in the next book, and hope for a safe homecoming for their beloved soldiers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A view of the 1942 homefront from a 12-year-old Jewish-American girl who grows in understanding and maturity when she befriends a German-Jewish girl seeking refuge in New York.

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