Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 9, 2015

Blackstone Publishing: An Honorable Assassin (Nick Mason Novels #3) by Steve Hamilton

Clarion Books: The Man Who Didn't Like Animals by Deborah Underwood, Illlustrated by LeUyen Pham

Holiday House: Bye Forever, I Guess by Jodi Meadows and Team Canteen 1: Rocky Road by Amalie Jahn

Wednesday Books: Dust by Alison Stine

Running Press Kids: The Junior Witch's Handbook, The Junior Astrologer's Handbook, and The Junior Tarot Reader's Handbook by Nikki Van De Car

Scholastic Press: Ruin Road by Lamar Giles


B&N, BAM Holiday Sales: Books and Sidelines Up

Sales at Barnes & Noble bookstores and during the nine-week holiday period ended January 3 rose 0.2%, to $1.1 billion.

Excluding Nook products, "core" bookstore sales at bookstores open at least a year rose 1.7%, while all bookstore sales, including Nook, fell 0.6%. Nook sales fell 55.4%, to $56 million: sales of devices and accessories were down 67.9%, to $28.5 million, while sales of digital content dropped 25%, to $27.4 million.

The company attributed overall gains to "the continued stabilization of physical book sales and growth in the educational toys and games and gift departments," which helped offset the sales decline from closed stores.

B&N CEO Michael P. Huseby said, "Core comparable bookstore sales were better than our expectations, even as we cycled against the improved core sales trends that began this period a year ago. Our retail booksellers performed at an outstanding level for our customers this holiday season, which is reflected in our results."

Despite the poor Nook results, Wall Street liked the news: yesterday Barnes & Noble closed at $24.73 a share, up 4.9%. Still, the Wall Street Journal speculated that "the downbeat [Nook] results could make it difficult for Barnes & Noble to complete the Nook separation, planned by the end of August, some analysts said, because it will be hard to convince investors the business has a future."

The paper quoted James McQuivey of Forrester Research, who suggested that Nook owners are "abandoning" the Nook e-bookstore. "Otherwise, you'd have seen stabilizing digital content sales." He added that B&N should consider folding the Nook business into

B&N has revised its prediction of retail core sales for the year, saying it now expects them to be "approximately flat." It continues to predict that total retail comp bookstore sales, as well as college comp-store sales, will decline in the low-single digits.


Meanwhile, at Books-A-Million, during the same nine-week period ended January 3, retail sales rose 1%, to $129.2 million. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.2%, and comp-store sales excluding e-reader devices, rose 1.7%.

BAM CEO and president Terrance G. Finley commented: "This year's results showed strengthening sales in our largest and most significant business categories of full priced books, gifts and café. Our gift department was particularly strong due to Disney's Frozen licensed product. We also delivered double digit sales increases in online sales."

Help a Bookseller, Change a Life: Give today to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation!

Patterson Donates £50,000 to World Book Day Award

James Patterson has donated £50,000 (about $75,470) to the inaugural World Book Day Award, which launches today and offers schools in the U.K. and Ireland a chance to win books to transform their libraries. The winning school receives £10,000 (about $15,094) worth of books, the second place school £5,000 (about $7,547) and three runners-up each get £3,000 (about $4,528). They will each also receive the expert advice of a local bookseller to help them make selections. Patterson's donation will be split over two years.

"Far too many children are in danger of living their lives without books," Patterson said. "Reading is one of the building blocks of life and can take you to another world. It only takes one good book to create a lifelong reader--even kids that have trouble reading can usually find something they gobble up. World Book Day is a brilliant way to introduce kids to new stories and authors."

To enter, schools are asked to respond to the statement: "Why we can't live without books." Deadline for entries is January 30. The winner and runners-up will be announced on World Book Day, March 5.

General Retail Sales in December: Slight Holiday Gains

Lower gas prices were a December gift that helped retailers "post stronger-than-expected sales over the holiday-shopping season as consumers were more inclined to open their wallets to take advantage of promotions at the mall," MarketWatch reported. For the month, sales at stores open at least a year were up 2.8% at the eight retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters, exceeding analysts' estimate of 2.5%. Sales increased 2.3% in the same period last year.

Saginaw, Mich., Bookstore Now Cheryl's Books New & Used


Cheryl Kennedy, who bought Maxey's Discount Bookstore in Saginaw, Mich., last month, has renovated the store and reopened it as Cheryl's Books New & Used, said. Former owner Maxey Morgan has retired after some 33 years in the business.

The store boasts new paint, new carpet, new lighting, new windows, new countertops and remodeled bathrooms and reopened on Monday. Most of the books are used, but Kennedy is adding new titles to the mix.

A fan of romance novels, Kennedy has been a customer of the store for more than 20 years. Besides romance, strong sections include westerns, mysteries, horror, sci-fi, war and espionage, religion, travel, health, diet and psychology.

Cheryl's Books New & Used is located at 3647 Bay Road, Saginaw, Mich. 48603.

For Sale: Main Street Books in Davidson, N.C.

Barbara Freund and Betty Reinke have put Main Street Books, Davidson, N.C., up for sale after 20 years because they are ready to retire, Davidson News reported. The sale involves the business only, not the building, which Reinke and her husband own.

"The time has come," said Reinke. "We're getting too old to work such long days.... It's been wonderful. We have a loyal following and it's really an institution on Main Street by now.... The best thing is the atmosphere of the town. The people that want to live here are readers. There's more than 30 book clubs here. We don't think we could have survived in any other town."

'Torture Report' Goes Into Second Printing

Independent publisher Melville House, Brooklyn, N.Y., has shipped all 50,000 copies in the first print run of The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, which hit stores on December 30. The "Torture Report" paperback is now going into a second printing of 10,000 copies.

According to Melville House's publisher and co-founder Dennis Johnson, independent booksellers, librarians and academics have all shown tremendous interest in the book. Several independent bookstores have placed orders of more than 200 copies--those stores include Book Passage in San Francisco, Calif., Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., and Bookshop Santa Cruz, in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Enthusiasm for the book seems to be building as the holiday season recedes. "It's not something you want to buy at Christmas," Johnson explained. "But now that people are coming back into the normal swing of things, they're starting to take interest."

At Harvard Book Store the report was a featured book of the month, and made the store's bestseller list in its first week of sales. At Bookshop Santa Cruz, head adult fiction buyer Melinda Powers said that as more and more customers emerge from "holiday comas," sales of the book have risen.

And media interest in the publishing of the book itself has continued: Johnson has been interviewed by Entertainment Weekly, will appear on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, and has also drawn the attention of New York magazine.

"It's part of the build that we're starting to see happen," remarked Johnson. "It's astonishing to us." --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Lee Israel

Lee Israel, who wrote biographies of Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen and Estée Lauder before becoming a literary forger, died December 24. She was 75. Israel composed and sold "hundreds of letters that she said had been written by Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward, Lillian Hellman and others," the New York Times reported, adding that this eventually became the subject of her fourth and last book, Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Happy 115th Birthday, University Book Store!

Congratulations to University Book Store, Seattle, Wash., which is celebrating its 115th anniversary with a 25% off sale today and tomorrow, bookmark-making in the kids' department, birthday cookies today and free tote bags to customers who spend more than $15. "It's going to be crazy in here," Pam Cady, manager of general books, said. "And so much fun."

Very Cool Idea of the Day: Match the Temperature Discount

Using a winter version of turning lemons into lemonade, Clinton Book Shop, Clinton, N.J., is offering customers an incentive to venture out in the freezing weather. On Facebook, the bookseller wrote:

"OH YES! It is a cold morning. Our Match the Temperature Winter Discount Days for 2015 are under way. Today, when you stop in and mention this post, your purchase will be discounted what the mercury reads. If the temperature outside is 20, you save 20%."

(The temperature in Clinton reached a high of 19 degrees yesterday.)

Tampa's Inkwood Books Got Mail

From the Facebook page of Inkwood Books, Tampa, Fla.: "In 3 years our lease is up. I'm putting $5 in this mailbox every time someone compares me to Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. I should have enough to buy the property by 2018. Also, her store CLOSES at the end of the movie.... and she's a petite blonde! Not happening! But, if you meet a wealthy billionaire who wants to bankroll a small independent bookstore... send him my way... unless his last name is Bezos."

Personnel Changes at Putnam

At Putnam:

Ashley Hewlett has been promoted to senior publicist. She was previously a publicist.

Sarah Grimm has been promoted to associate publicist. She was previously a publicity assistant.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Rep. Steve Israel on His Debut Novel

Today on MSNBC's Now with Alex Wagner: Steve Israel, author of The Global War on Morris: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781476772233). He will also be on CBS News Radio's Weekend Roundup tomorrow.


Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition: Stewart O'Nan, author of West of Sunset (Viking, $27.95, 9780670785957).

Movies: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Paul Rudd will star in the adaptation of Jonathan Evison's novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Variety reported. Rob Burnett is directing and also adapting the script. Donna Gigliotti (Silver Linings Playbook) will produce along with James Spies (Constantine). Production begins January 22 in Atlanta.

Books & Authors

Awards: 800-CEO-READ Best Business Book

Michael Malone won the 800-CEO-READ Best Business Book of 2014 award for The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company (HarperCollins). Jury member Dylan Schleicher, editorial and creative director at the company, said, "If you look up and down our longlist of this year's best books, you'll see it's littered with books at the intersection of business and new technology, computers, the Internet, and whatever is coming next, not to mention backlash to this interconnectivity. It is just such an all-encompassing part of our lives now that we miss the forest of it for the trees of each aspect. Intel Trinity does a lot to explain how it became this way."

Jim Levine, a veteran industry agent and principal at Levine Greenberg who has represented authors like Patrick Lencioni, Dan Ariely, as well as this year's award winner, was named the inaugural recipient of the Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry, which is given to a person in the business book publishing industry who best represents the "innovation within and impact on business book publishing" of the company's recently retired founder.
Covert called Levine "the perfect choice for the inaugural award and I can't personally thank him enough for helping 800-CEO-READ become the company it is today.... His taste is seldom wrong and the degree to which Jim has grown and prospered is a tribute to his talent, the talent of the people he has hired, and his ability to help shape a growing industry."

Book Brahmin: Ausma Zehanat Khan

photo: Alan Klehr

Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Unquiet Dead (Minotaur Books, January 13, 2015), holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. She is a former adjunct law professor and editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl magazine, the first magazine targeted to young Muslim women. A British-born Canadian, Khan lives in Denver, Colo., with her husband.

On your nightstand now:

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie, The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch, Origins by Amin Maalouf, Defenders of Shannara: The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks, Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. I so much wanted to attend this British girls' school, to participate in midnight feasts with scones and clotted cream, to play pranks on the French mistress with the rest of the girls and to be best friends with head girl Darrell Rivers.

Your top five authors:

Ngaio Marsh, Amin Maalouf, J.K. Rowling, Reginald Hill and Terry Brooks.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. It loses my attention by the second page, but now that I've been to Ireland and visited many of the book's settings, I'm ready for another attempt.

Book you're an evangelist for:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra was, for me, the best book of 2013. It's so gorgeously written with such depth of emotion. The chapter where the Sufi prayer ritual is quietly and secretly enacted is a moving and profound statement about the human spirit in the face of unrelenting despotism. The author has a powerful and delicate hand with the brutal history of Chechnya. He broke my heart again and again.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Blue Last by Martha Grimes. The cover is saturated in blues over what looks like a photograph of the Blitz in London. The title is embossed in silver letters. So evocative and mysterious--what does it mean?

Book that changed your life:

Dune by Frank Herbert. I was 13 when I read it and was amazed that the contentious history of Islam could be transformed into the magical and wondrous subtext of this book, bringing alive such memorable characters. To see this history reflected in a rich and fascinating way gave me hope, and made me imagine new possibilities for myself.

Favorite line from a book:

"Your manuscript has gone on ahead of you to Alamut." --Amin Maalouf, Samarkand. It captures everything that is hilarious, touching and tragic in the failed relationship of the Chief of the Assassins, Hassan Sabbah, and the poet-philosopher-mathematician, Omar Khayyam. The manuscript in question will turn out to be The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Which character you most relate to:

Hermione in the Harry Potter series. She's a know-it-all worrywart, just like me, and she believes the answer to everything can be found in books--again, like me.

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

Dialogues of the Dead, an astoundingly literate mystery by Reginald Hill that's poetic, spooky, haunting, desolate, brilliant and so frightening. I wish I could unravel it again from the beginning, and just not know. A masterpiece of plotting.

Invaluable lesson from a book:

The narrator of Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes designs a list of subjects that should never be written about again. My favourite? "There shall be no more novels about incest. No, not even ones in very bad taste." Item number one on this list ["...novels in which a group of people, isolated by circumstances, revert to the 'natural condition' of man, become essential, poor, bare, forked creatures...."] is a literary tour de force. The whole list is deeply funny and still makes me laugh.

Book Review

Review: The Seventh Day

The Seventh Day by Yu Hua, trans. by Allan H. Barr (Pantheon, $25 hardcover, 9780804197861, January 13, 2015)

With this book, Yu Hua (Boy in the Twilight) and his translator Allan H. Barr offer English-speaking readers a glimpse into two foreign lands--the life of the lower class in modern China and a vision of an afterlife in which class continues to determine one's destiny.

Yang Fei wakes up dead at age 41, marked by untended wounds and with his facial features out of alignment. Invisible to the living, he walks through a heavy fog to keep his appointment at the funeral parlor, where the dead await their turn to be cremated. He quickly realizes he doesn't belong among the VIP dead with their grandly named cremation urns--Immortal Crane Manor and Unicorn Palace, for example--and has no place even among the commoners whose families provided for them in death. Alone in the world, Fei had no one to prepare him for cremation, and without an urn or gravesite, his ashes will have nowhere to go. So instead, he sets out on two quests: first, to find the cause of his own death and then to find his father who predeceased him.

Along the way, Fei runs across several deceased people from his past, a variety of connections both intimate and tangential. Some, like his ex-wife, cause him to reflect on his respectable but unambitious life, while others, including a couple killed when the government bulldozed their house while they were still inside, tell him stories that double as searing commentary on the corruption of the Chinese bureaucracy. Although these somewhat disparate encounters and flashbacks give the novel an episodic quality, the story of Fei's assimilation into the afterlife gradually emerges.

Possessing a masterful facility with black humor, Yu uses the afterlife as a mirror that distorts reality into a parody of itself: dead people worry about planning for the future in the face of the rising cost of real estate (the graves their families must continue to pay for in perpetuity). However, he skillfully balances a cynical attitude toward corrupt officials with moments of human compassion that are nothing short of heroic. Readers in search of sentiment will fall in love with Yang Jinbiao, Fei's father, who found him as a newborn on a train track and gave up his chance at marriage to raise the baby boy.

Working from a rather morbid premise, Yu manages to make death seem like another phase of life, show the better side of human nature and get in a few digs at politicians and inequality along the way. Readers with a taste for the bittersweet will find that Yang Fei's week among the dead hits the spot. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: A lower-class Chinese man navigates his afterlife in search of answers and comrades.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Looking Busy, Until It Gets Busy Again

Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven, Mass.
photo: Timothy Johnson/Vineyard Gazette

"Winter is icumen in." Quick, look busy!

Do you still recall those merry, intense times on the sales floor during the 2014 holiday season? Every day, you could feel the momentum as you fed off your customers' energy and soared to handselling performance heights that touched upon retail greatness. Was it really just last month? Now, another cold, bleak January has arrived and far too many of those motivated customers seem to be hibernating. The bookstore is quiet, too quiet, and you're looking for something to do to pass the hours.

That, my friends, is where the art of looking busy comes into play.

I know, I know. You have plenty to do. You can recite, on demand, a long and ever-expanding litany of items clamoring for your immediate attention, like a sword of Damocles--forged from reminder notes, to-do lists and publisher catalogues--that hovers over your teetering stack of to-be-read ARCs.

Ignore all that. The angel on your shoulder may be advising you to get to work, but the devil offers a more tempting alternative, whispering that you've earned a January break. This time of year, a subtle strain of bookseller cabin fever can set in. It's not the good, permissible kind that involves drinking a mug of hot cocoa while reading a fine book next to a blazing fireplace at home after a hard day of work.

No, this version is the devil's counsel: Just look busy. Your boss or staff or customers won't even notice if you do it right. A delicate subject, I concede. On a bookstore sales floor in January, however, looking busy can sometimes be elevated to the level of survival skill, perhaps even fine art.

If you want to do this properly, there is a learning curve. From the customer's perspective, you should always appear occupied, yet approachable. This means no reading books when you're working behind the counter and limited socializing with other booksellers on the sales floor. Stroll whenever possible. Carrying a small stack of books is your passport because it appears you are on a mission. Idly straightening shelves and displays works well as a diversionary tactic. You're a little busy, but available if needed. On the other hand, shelving books as if your life depended on it is frowned upon.

Maybe you recall the old days, when staring at a checkout counter computer screen was a looking busy option? To the uneducated eye, you appeared to be doing something constructive--ordering a book for a phone customer or searching inventory. That, of course, was before social media and the age of cyberloafing. Now, even if you're legitimately tracking comparative section sales on Above the Treeline, you will appear to be checking personal Facebook updates or tweeting about customer fashion choices as they showroom your bestseller list with smartphones.

As might be expected, retail experts (as well as would-be experts) have addressed the "look like you're busy" issue from every angle. Don't go there for guidance. For every well-intentioned "50 Things Retail Employees Can Do When They're Not Busy" ("If you let them just wait for customers, the entire energy in your store will suffer."), you will find a "How to Look Busy When You Really Aren't" ("The key to looking busy is to keep moving, and the faster you're moving, the busier you look.")

It is also recommended that you resist the advice of perennial get-a-life coach George Costanza: "Right now, I sit around pretending that I'm busy.... I always look annoyed. When you look annoyed all the time, people think that you're busy."

Okay, I confess. The art of looking busy is really just a forgery.

Bookstores are expected to be a quiet refuge from life's clamor, but the post-holiday season lull can be a little disquieting. You do need a momentary break, even as you miss those jam-packed aisles and the smart cacophony of cheerful voices as patrons talked--and purchased--books. Their abrupt vanishing act can make your sales floor look as if it has been vacuum-sealed until spring.

Great bookselling requires focus, energy, financial sacrifice and... well, you know that list, too. Sustaining this level of commitment is a challenge, and yet you continue to meet it and to resist the lure of surrendering to routine. You deserve a moment to exhale in January. And if you take a little more time to get the engine revving on these chilly mornings, that's okay, too. Sometimes, if only briefly, it's better to look busy than to be busy. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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