Shelf Awareness for Friday, November 4, 2016

Little Brown and Company: Haven by Emma Donoghue

Berkley Books: The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch

Sourcebooks: Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod by Casey Sherman

Candlewick Press (MA): Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

Jy: Enemies (Berrybrook Middle School #5) by Svetlana Chmakova

Entangled Publishing: Stealing Infinity by Alyson Noël

St. Martin's Press: The Matchmaker's Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Legendary Comics YA: Enola Holmes: Mycroft's Dangerous Game by Nancy Springer, illustrated by Giorgia Sposito


Commonplace Books Coming to Oklahoma City in 2017

"As all of this renewal is taking place, there's been an obvious, gaping hole in the center of the city," said Benjamin Nockels, a resident of Oklahoma City, Okla., and one of four owners of Commonplace Books, a new independent bookstore opening in the city's Midtown neighborhood in early 2017. To help reach that goal, the Commonplace Books team has also run a crowdfunding campaign, which has raised a little over $2,100.

During the last several years, as the revitalization of Oklahoma City's urban core grew, one thing that remained conspicuously absent was a new indie bookstore. Eventually Nockels decided to do something about that: for the past year, he has had a combination part-time job, internship and apprenticeship with James Tolbert, the owner of Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City, learning the bookselling ropes to be able to fill that hole in the city center and "jump into the life blood of the community." (Nockels and co-owner Joe Carr also attended a Paz & Associates prospective booksellers workshop.)

Benjamin Nockles

Nockels and his business partners have found a 2,000-square-foot storefront located on the street level of a new residential building in Midtown Oklahoma City. Nockels, who will manage day-to-day operations of Commonplace Books, estimated that at opening the store will have an inventory of 6,000-8,000 titles. The store will have books for kids, teens and adults, but the children's section will have its own entrance and be branded as Commonplace Books for Kids (though the stores will be connected on the inside). All of Commonplace's books will be new, and Nockels is taking an interesting approach to building the inventory.

"What we're attempting to do is to re-imagine a little bit both the display and curation of the inventory, in that we're trying to treat it as an open source process," said Nockels. As a result, Nockels has consulted with local restaurateurs to help build the store's cooking section and asked a local architect to help curate books on home decor and design, for example. "We want it to be fun and unique. We want this to be the community's bookstore."

Though he acknowledged that the store will have some traditional sections and categories, Nockels said that he wants to have fun with how books are presented. He wants customers to see their own lives reflected in displays of books, and as an example of how he might accomplish that, he proposed a hypothetical section called "the dreamer," which could contain everything from fiction and nonfiction to art and photography and even self-help organized around a central theme. The general idea, he explained, is to expose readers to books and authors they might not otherwise see if they browsed only within their normally preferred categories.

"How many people who say they don't read science fiction or fantasy just decided they don't read it?" wondered Nockels, suggesting that this sort of genre-avoidance resulted from books being presented in ways that readers "can't identify with."

Nockels plans to have a minimal selection of sidelines, consisting of things that are either explicitly book-related, exclusive to the store or created by local artists and craftspeople. There will be candles burning in the store, with a custom scent created by several local candlemakers, that will also be available for purchase, and much of the local art on the walls will be for sale as well. Said Nockels: "All of the experience can be taken home with you, in a slightly less than overt kind of way."

In planning the store's atmosphere and overall aesthetic, Nockels and his business partners want to create "a place of unhurried wander," with an emphasis on hospitality. The store will not sell coffee or tea, but Nockels plans to have beverages to offer to readers, as a host would offer to a guest; he does not want the inside of the store to feel "overly transactional." The idea is to outfit and decorate the store in a way that is "beautiful and functional."

The store will also have a strong focus on events and community interaction. When Nockels was first thinking about the store, in fact, he imagined stocking the shelves only with books by authors who had visited the store or were scheduled to visit. Though he realized quickly that that wasn't feasible, the core of the idea still guides his vision for the store, which is that everything should be about fostering community and creating human interaction. Added Nockels: "a bookstore should be at the epicenter of a community."

The Commonplace Books team plans to open the store as close to the first of the year as possible, and while the final build-outs are under way in December, Nockels will be running a series of pop-up shops throughout Oklahoma City. Currently, Nockels is looking to hire a children's manager and a few booksellers.

"In some ways we're kind of building the plane while flying it," said Nockels. "Our plan is to turn the lights back on the first of the year and hopefully be ready to roll. Our time is drawing nigh." --Alex Mutter

W. W. Norton & Company: Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

BookCon Hosting Dan Brown; YA Authors

The fourth annual BookCon will be held on June 3-4 at the Javits Center in New York City, immediately following BookExpo, and will include an appearance by Dan Brown, whose next book is Origin, as well as YA authors Cassandra Clare, Danielle Paige, Shannon Hale, Marissa Meyer, Morgan Matson and Jenny Han, with more authors to be lined up.

BookCon expects more than 250 exhibitors and will have the Downtown Stage again, location of a range of events. New next year will be "a designated space within the Show to highlight children's books through meaningful installations and interactive activities called Family HQ."

Harper Voyager: Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa

Delayed Opening for B&N's Eastchester, N.Y., 'Concept Store'

Artist's rendering of B&N's new cafe.

"Those looking to browse for books and relax with a glass of wine or beer at Barnes & Noble's new location will have to wait," the Journal News reported. The bookstore chain had initially projected an October opening for its first "concept store," featuring a restaurant with an expanded menu, along with beer and wine, at Vernon Hills Shopping Center in Eastchester, N.Y., but now expects the space won't be ready until December.

Mary Ellen Keating, B&N's senior v-p of corporate communications & public affairs, said the Eastchester store was expected to open first, followed by four other locations: Edina, Minn.; Folsom, Calif.; Loudon, Va.;and Plano, Tex. Current plans call for three of the stores to open before the end of the year. "It takes time and we're working on three of them," Keating said. "This is a whole new concept and it's just taking time. We won't open until it's perfect."

KidsBuzz for the Week of 05.23.22

Ntozake Shange to Receive Langston Hughes Medal

Ntozake Shange is this year's recipient of the City College of New York's Langston Hughes Medal, which recognizes "highly distinguished writers from throughout the African American diaspora for their impressive works of poetry, fiction, drama, autobiography and critical essays that help to celebrate the memory and tradition of Langston Hughes." She will receive the award November 17 during the Langston Hughes Festival.

Ntozake Shange

Shange has written 15 plays, 19 poetry collections, six novels, five children's books, three collections of essays, and a memoir called Lost in Language & Sound. Her landmark theater piece For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf was a Broadway success in 1976-1977 and won an Obie while still off-Broadway at the Public Theater. For Colored Girls... has been performed continuously since then both in the U.S. and abroad, has remained in print since its publication in 1974 and was made into a movie by Tyler Perry in 2010.

Retha Powers, director of the Langston Hughes Festival, said that Shange "is one of America's greatest living writers--an acknowledged master in the genres of drama, fiction, memoir, and poetry. Shange was raised mainly in Trenton, N.J., and St. Louis, Mo. In her childhood, she was affected deeply by the Civil Rights Movement and forced school busing. Later, attending Barnard College in the late 1960s, she came under the influence of a wide variety of radical movements, including the antiwar Vietnam protests, feminism, the black arts and black liberation movements, the Puerto Rican liberation movement, and the Sixties sexual revolution. She later became a voice for these social justice movements, but above all she spoke for, and in fact embodied, the ongoing struggle of black women for equality, dignity, and respect for their enormous contribution to human culture."

McFarland Launches Nonfiction, 'Bookstore-First' Imprint

Scholarly publisher McFarland has launched Exposit Books, an imprint "combining serious nonfiction with a bookstore-first approach," according to the publisher. Exposit's initial offering is Finding Jacob Wetterling by Robert M. Dudley, and the first full group of titles, also featuring true-crime topics, is set for a fall 2017 debut.

"We're releasing six titles the first season, and true crime authors Kevin J. Sullivan and Clayton Delery-Edwards are both signed on and contributing books for the rollout," said executive editor Lisa Camp. "We will be publishing a wide range of titles, eventually including books about entertainment, psychology, sex, health and history. Our plan is to bring Exposit to 24 to 30 books annually."

G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
The Second Death of
Edie and Violet Bond
by Amanda Glaze

GLOW: Union Square & Co.: The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond by Amanda GlazeGet ready for a gratifyingly spooky historical fantasy with thrilling acts of female rebellion. Twins Edie and Violet Bond are powerful mediums traveling with a group of spiritualists who, in shows that purport to channel the dead, covertly promulgate their socio-political opinions. Laura Schreiber, executive editor at Union Square & Co., was delighted to work with debut author Amanda Glaze: "Amanda's ability to depict 19th-century misogyny and the reclaiming of female power feels so relevant to our current dialogues surrounding young women's mental states, autonomy and right to speak for themselves." The Second Death of Edie and Violet Bond is transportive, in every sense of the word. --Emilie Coulter

(Union Square & Co., $18.99 hardcover, ages 12-17, 9781454946786, October 4, 2022)


Shelf vetted, publisher supported



Image of the Day: Ann Hood Meets Book Club Challenge

Author Ann Hood surpassed her publisher's challenge to meet 60 book clubs around the country before her 60th birthday on December 9--the current total is 65--when she met last week with five book clubs at Hearth & Soul during her Tallahassee, Fla., book signing and talk. Her recent title, The Book That Matters Most (Norton) is about love, loss and the healing power of book clubs. Pictured: (center, seated on couch), Ann Hood, and members of the Hearth & Soul Book Club, Black Sheep, Wine, Women & Wit, Waverly Hills Afternoon Book Club, the LitWits and the 4th Quarter Book Club.  

Annapolis Bookstore, Annapolis, Md., Celebrates New, Larger Space

Annapolis Bookstore, Annapolis, Md., has moved and will celebrate its new, bigger location and its 12th anniversary tomorrow, November 5. The store will have champagne and cake at 5 p.m. and a 12% discount on books all day.

Cool Idea of the Day: NaNoWriMo Window

Appletree Books, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, is celebrating National Novel Writing Month by inviting local authors to sit in the front windows "furiously scribbling or pecking out their masterpieces as cars and pedestrians pass by on Cedar Road," the Plain Dealer reported.

"We have some amazing writers in the Cleveland area, and how often do writers have a chance to sit in the window of their neighborhood bookstore and write?" asked Jane Rothstein of Appletree Books. "And how often do people see writers writing?... So far, our sign-ups have spanned from middle schoolers to professional writers and include novelists, short story writers, playwrights, journalists, graduate students, and more. You can think of it as performance art, a way to gain a different perspective on the world, a break from your routine, or just a unique way to embed yourself in the workings of a bookstore."

Personnel Changes at Cambridge University Press

Tim Hoey has joined Cambridge University Press as a library sales representative for the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Viet Thanh Nguyen on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press, $27.95, 9780674660342).

Tavis Smiley Show: Carole Bayer Sager, author of They're Playing Our Song: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501153266).

Movies: Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere Series

DMG Entertainment has acquired film and licensing rights to Brandon Sanderson's bestselling Cosmere series of interconnected fantasy novels. Variety reported that the "entertainment and media company has committed to spending $270 million, which will cover half of the money needed to back the first three movies made from Sanderson's canon. That makes it one of the largest literary deals of the year. DMG beat out several interested parties for rights to the series."

An adaptation of Sanderson's The Way of Kings, the first in the Stormlight Archive series, is being fast-tracked by DMG, which "has hired screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the writing team behind several Saw films, to adapt the book." DMG will simultaneously adapt the first book in Sanderson's Mistborn series.

"DMG is all about global entertainment brands built cinematically for the worldwide audience, and Sanderson's library of present and future material provides one of the greatest story and character universes ever created," said company founder and CEO Dan Mintz.

Sanderson commented: "The people at DMG aren't just producers or financiers. They're fans. From the first moment we met, I knew they understood my vision and goals for the Cosmere, and I've been excited to work with them in bringing their vision for the universe to the screen."

Books & Authors

Awards: Kirkus, IPNE Book; Poets & Writers

The winners of the 2016 Kirkus Prize, each of whom receives $50,000, are:

Fiction: The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Nonfiction: In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi (Metropolitan/Holt)
Young Readers' Literature: As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum)


Winners of this year's Independent Publishers of New England Book Awards were announced at the IPNE Fall Conference in Portsmouth, N.H.:

Book of the year: Book Design Made Simple by Fiona Raven & Glenna Collett
 (12 Pines Press)
Narrative nonfiction: Sea Miner by Chuck Veit (Chuck Veit Books)
Literary fiction: Madrone by Jack B. Rochester (Wheatmark Books)
Mystery: Asylum by Kathryn Orzech (Kathryn Orzech Publishing)
Fantasy/SciFi: Lady, Thy Name is Trouble by Lori L. MacLaughlin (Book and Sword Publishing)
Historical fiction: A Long Way Back by J. Everett Prewitt (Northland Publishing Company)
Informational nonfiction: Book Design Made Simple by Fiona Raven & Glenna Collett
 (12 Pines Press)
Design: Anesthesia at the House by Joseph Kreutz (UVM Department of Anesthesia)
Art books: Vermont by Edward L. Rubin (Fine Arts Press)
YA: Soulene: A Healer in Paris by Ursula Pearson (i30 Media Corporation)
Children's: The Growing Sweater by Jason J. Marchi (OmicronWorld/Fahrenheit)
Perennial sellers: The Legend of Hobbomock the Sleeping Giant by Jason Marchi, (OmicronWorld/Fahrenheit)
E-books: One Hot Mess by Jeanne Rogers (Acadia Publishing Group)


Poets & Writers magazine is giving the 2017 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award to Ann Patchett, Francisco Goldman and Richard Shelton. The Editor's Award will be presented to Graywolf Press's publisher and director Fiona McCrae and executive editor Jeff Shotts.

Author Susan Isaacs, chairman of Poets & Writers' board of directors, said, "We are thrilled to have an opportunity to shine a light on the extraordinary contributions of these writers and editors. They embody the values that Poets & Writers aspires to: service, integrity, inclusivity, and excellence."

Poets & Writers said Patchett is being recognized for "her tireless work on behalf of the literary community.... She is known for her efforts to bring together readers and authors--in her own bookstore, in public libraries, and in many other venues."

The organization praised novelist Goldman for "promoting the work of other writers, especially those from Latin America. Goldman created and directs the Aura Estrada Prize (Premio Aura Estrada), which is named for his late wife."

And poet, memoirist and professor Shelton is being honored for teaching "writing workshops in Arizona's prisons for more than four decades, giving scores of incarcerated men access to the transformative power of writing. Several workshop participants have gone on to have successful careers as poets, journalists, and educators."

McCrae and Shotts are being honored for "the tremendous impact they have had, individually and collaboratively."

The awards will be presented at Poets & Writers' annual dinner, In Celebration of Writers, on March 8 in New York City. The chair is Shawn Morin, CEO and president of Ingram Content Group. Jane Alexander will serve as emcee, and Susan Isaacs will present the awards.

B&N's Discover Great New Writers: Spring 2017 List

Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program has announced the 22 titles on its spring 2017 list. The selection committee is comprised of B&N booksellers who "have been on the hunt to find the best and the brightest, the next great storyteller (fiction or nonfiction) that they can't stop talking about, the books that they can't wait to get into the hands of another reader." The spring 2017 B&N Discover Great New Writers titles are:

The Animators: A Novel by Kayla Ray Whitaker
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel by Katherine Arden
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach
Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory and Murder by Leah Carroll
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming
Idaho: A Novel by Emily Ruskovich
Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
Marlena: A Novel by Julie Buntin
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
Schadenfreude: A Love Story by Rebecca Schuman
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell
Traveling with Ghosts: A Memoir by Shannon Leone Fowler
The Young Widower's Handbook: A Novel by Tom McAllister

Reading with... Patrick Sheane Duncan

photo: David LaPorte

Patrick Sheane Duncan wrote the screenplays for Mr. Holland's Opus, Courage Under Fire and Nick of Time. He is the producer of the HBO series Vietnam War Story and cowriter/director of the documentary series Medal of Honor. Dracula vs. Hitler (Inkshares, October 25, 2016) is his third novel.

On your nightstand now:

A nightstand is not nearly enough for me. Next to my nightstand is a bookshelf taller than I, stacked with books I want to read. Right now I am looking forward to The Ancient Minstrel, the last book by Jim Harrison, a man who wrote books that reveal the souls of the common man and woman, dark comic revelations that take place in the margins of life. I'm saving this treat for a special day--maybe when my next book comes out. I'm looking to add to the shelves all the time, searching for some sci-fi in the vein of the brilliant Peter F. Hamilton, who just doesn't write fast enough for my addiction.

On weekends I read nonfiction, and I'm now in the middle of E.J. Dionne Jr.'s Why the Right Went Wrong, a remarkable history of the Republican Party since Eisenhower, and how they got themselves into the Trump troubles they face this year.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My early favorites were the Tom Swift series, first reading those written in the '30s and then the '50s. After I plowed through them the next logical step was the Hardy Boys. I remember I was fond of biographies: examining the lives of other people, using that information to try to make sense of my own life, to somehow discover a way to escape the grim poverty that was my state at the time.

Being a kid of the '50s I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy: Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon. I still remember the thrill of Andre Norton's Star Rangers.

Your top five authors:

Mark Twain: you can read Huckleberry Finn every 10 years in your life and each time come away with a new insight about the world, humanity, yourself. As a kid it is just a great adventure, as a teenager you begin to see the grand metaphor, in your college years the themes of race and the American psyche poke you in the eye, then in your 30s you delve into the mysteries of friendship, family and the scene where Huck's father is found resonates for a long time.

Kurt Vonnegut's world is a great place to revisit--God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater still delights with every reading, and Slaughterhouse-Five remains a gobsmacking read.

John Steinbeck's East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath are as important to me as the first time I read them; the Cain and Abel drama and that paean to American poverty and the unbending spirit of man made a deep and lasting impression.

Larry McMurtry's unforgettable characters live long after I've finished one of his books. So much so that I have found myself watching someone on the street or at the mall, or on vacation, and thinking: there's a McMurtry character.

As for my fifth author, it's between Raymond Chandler and Jim Harrison, mostly on the sheer joy of language.

Book you've faked reading:

I don't know if I have ever faked reading a book. I used to finish books I didn't like, feeling some sort of guilt, that I somehow owed it to the author. Nowadays I say to hell with it, if a book hasn't ensnared me in the first hundred pages I drop it and grab another off the stack.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I have throughout the years repeatedly given away copies of Daniel J. Boorstin's trilogy: The Creators, The Discoverers and The Seekers, the sort of history that answers a lot of questions you never thought to ask and makes you go searching for more information.

I also tell everyone to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez's awe-inspiring dreamscape of a novel.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Ace sci-fi doubles--as a kid in the '60s I bought them used--they were cheap and there were two of them!

Book you hid from your parents:

I was working at The Coffee Gallery, a beatnik hangout in Holland, Mich., when an enlightened Hope College student gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was in 1965 and I was a senior in high school. The town was 99% white--the only black people around were a family from Africa from a missionary exchange. Malcolm X's story had a huge impact on me. I related to being poor, the rough childhood, of course, but it was his outsider status that I connected with the most--being different, smart and angry at your situation. The anger really resonated. The inner rage at the blatant unfairness, the dark side of the American Dream, the impotency of the poor.

I couldn't read the book at home, my mother and her latest man both being racists. At school one of the teachers even told me I shouldn't read such "trash." So, I put the slipcover of another book over it, a tattered A.E. Van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher. The forbidden designation, as usual, only made the book more precious.

Book that changed your life:

I was in Vietnam and an old girlfriend sent me a copy of Catch-22. Reading that darkly funny book in the midst of the military madness surrounding me was so surreal that I had to stop reading it oft-times just to protect my own sanity. The trouble with that magnificent novel is that as ludicrous as the characters may be, as outrageous the situations, they still pale in comparison to the real thing.

Favorite line from a book:

A Raymond Chandler quote that has become almost a cliché in its popularity among authors, but here it is:
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen." --Red Wind

Five books you'll never part with:

East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath, along with the journal Steinbeck kept while writing Working Days.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain--probably one of the annotated versions.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

All of these books can be read over and over and reveal something new each time.

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

Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, of course!

What you thought of this exercise:

All of these questions made me dig a bit deeper into the question of why I read. Early on it was a way to escape a life of misery and want. Reading novels and nonfiction gave me examples of people who triumphed and gave me a stimulus to try to exceed my own circumstances. Later they were lessons on how to be a better person. I've always thought of myself as a self-made man, and the route, however wandering, was lit by the light of the books I have read.

Book Review

Review: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories by Kathleen Collins (Ecco, $15.99 paperback, 192p., 9780062484154, December 6, 2016)

Kathleen Collins was a writer, civil rights activist, filmmaker and film professor who died at age 46 in 1988. Her daughter inherited her works and personal papers, and in recent years has taken on the project of her mother's legacy. Collins's critically admired feature film, Losing Ground, was restored and given its first theatrical release in 2015. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? is the first publication of her short fiction.

This collection is filled with nostalgia for lost moments of happiness and belonging--in a romance, in an extraordinary group of young friends or a seemingly perfect family. Collins understands the delicate intricacies of a failing relationship, and a special interest in the unresolvable strangenesses of life. In one story, a hairdresser accidentally and inexplicably tells a client's future; in another, an uncle "soaked his life in sorrow," keeping the household awake every night with "his great heartrending sobbing that went on hour after relentless hour until the morning, when he would fall asleep and sleep the day away only to awaken again at night and begin this vigorous lamentation."

In many of her stories, race and gender conflicts play out in the lives of intellectual and idiosyncratic people living in Manhattan, Paris and rural New England during the early 1960s, when the civil rights movement was roaring. Collins vividly evokes the exhilaration and apprehension of that time, and the struggle to build personal lives in the midst of sexual and racial revolution. Her characters negotiate the joys and irritations of the bohemian social scene, their own evolving ideals and the chilly disapproval of older relatives who see no charm in a literature degree, civil disobedience, natural hair or interracial love. "And what of love instead of politics? What of the nubile, fleeting sensation, when one is color-blind, religion-blind, name-, age-, aid-, vital statistics-blind...? What of all those interracial couples peppering the Lower East Side in the summer of '63 and the summer of '64, only to go into furtive decline in the summer of '65--no longer to be seen holding hands in public ('Black Power! Black Power! Black Power!')?"

These stories fill a gap in the literature, whether or not you knew a gap was there, and they speak to the present like a sharp-eyed worldly aunt who has seen it all before. --Sara Catterall

Shelf Talker: This collection of stories follows young black bohemian intellectuals in the 1960s, as they negotiate life in the midst of sexual and racial revolution.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Celebrating & Reading #BergerAt90

John Berger (photo: Ji-Elle)

John Berger is an artist, writer and political activist, though none of those terms come close to defining him. Tomorrow he will be 90 years old. Age can't define him either. Since I often write author obituaries for Shelf Awareness, I thought it might be a refreshing change of perspective to offer a celebration of living instead. This is just a small word gallery about an artist whose work and singular life matter to me:

#BergerAt90: Verso Books is "running a giveaway competition! Open up any Berger book, or listen to any Berger talk, and inspiring and insightful phrases leap out at you. For your chance to win one of five Berger-related bundles, simply tweet your favorite Berger quote using the hashtag #BergerAt90."

The Seasons in Quincy: A new film, The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger, will be released next month on DVD. It is "the result of a five-year project by Tilda Swinton, Colin MacCabe and Christopher Roth to produce a portrait of the intellectual and storyteller." Here's the trailer. In Prospect magazine, MacCabe recalled: "Swinton's and my initial aim was very simple: to give a film audience some sense of what it was to be in John's company; to feel so alive and so lucky. The shooting was an endless intellectual adventure."

First encounter: I came to Berger's work late, but fortunately not too late. I had known about Ways of Seeing (his groundbreaking 1972 BBC series and accompanying book) and that he'd won the Booker Prize for G, but my first direct encounter with his writing did not occur until 1995 with his extraordinary novel To the Wedding. I read the ARC because Michael Ondaatje told me to with the best blurb ever: "In some countries it must still be the writer's role to gather and comfort... to hold and celebrate a moment before darkness. With To the Wedding John Berger has written a great, sad, and tender lyric, a novel that is a vortex of community and compassion that somehow overcomes fate and death. Wherever I live in the world I know I will have this book with me." 

Time travel: Fluid time travel, particularly in the dimension of art, is Berger's specialty. The links he forges from one century to another shatter presumed barriers between past and present. In his essay "The Fayum Portraits," Berger reflects upon these earliest surviving portraits, so old that "they were being painted whilst the Gospels of the New Testament were being written." He explores the embryonic relationship between painter and subject: "The sitter had not yet become a model, and the painter had not yet become a broker for future glory. Instead, the two of them, living at that moment, collaborated in a preparation for death. To paint was to name, and to be named was a guarantee of this continuity."

A scant page later, we are whisked forward through the centuries as he writes of our culture's more diffident approach to both the future and death: "The future has been, for the moment, downsized, and the past is being made redundant. Meanwhile the media surround people with an unprecedented number of images, many of which are faces. The faces harangue ceaselessly by provoking envy, new appetites, ambition or, occasionally, pity combined with a sense of impotence. Further, the images of all these faces are processed and selected in order to harangue as noisily as possible, so that one appeal out-pleads and eliminates the next appeal. And people come to depend upon this impersonal noise as a proof of being alive!"

Berger on Berger: "Reading him is like standing at a window--perhaps a bit like the window of this study--with no one blocking the view," Kate Kellaway noted in a recent Guardian profile where Berger said: "The way I observe comes naturally to me as a curious person--I'm like la vigie--the lookout guy on a boat who does small jobs, maybe such as shoveling stuff into a boiler, but I'm no navigator--absolutely the opposite. I wander around the boat, find odd places--the masts, the gunwale--and then simply look out at the ocean. Being aware of traveling has nothing to do with being a navigator.' "

Ali Smith on Berger: In a speech last year at the British Library for the launch of Portraits: John Berger on Artists, Ali Smith called him "a force of unselfishness in a culture that encourages solipsism, an insister on open eyes, on the recalibration and re-energizing of thinking, feeling, fiercely compassionate, fiercely uncompromising vision in a time that encourages looking away or looking only at the mirror images that create power and make money. Berger, who suggests that the aesthetic act, that art itself, is always collaborative, always in dialogue, or multilogue, a communal act, and one that involves questioning of form and of the given shape of things and forms. Berger, who can do anything with a text, but most of all will make it about the gift of engagement, correspondence--well, I can't give him anything but love, baby, it's the only thing I've plenty of, and that's what comes off all his work for me, fervent and warm and vital, an inclusive and procreative energy I can only call love."

Happy Birthday: Asked by Kate Kellaway about his birthday plans, Berger replied: "Listen, I feel so grateful to have reached 90--it is such an age--and to my friends for wanting to celebrate, but what I've told them all is that what we ought to do on the day is be silent. My birthday should just be a day like any other."

I think it will be a good day to read Berger.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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