Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 6, 2017

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 Holiday Comp-Store Sales Drop 9.1%

In the nine-week holiday period ending December 31, sales at Barnes & Noble stores open at least a year fell 9.1% while online sales rose about 2%.

Wall Street did not like the news. Yesterday B&N stock closed at $10.65 a share, down 6.6%, on four times the usual trading volume.

B&N attributed the drop in comp-store sales "largely due to lower traffic, as well as the decline in coloring books and artist supplies--a reversal of last year's phenomenon--and the comparison to last year's bestselling album by Adele--the largest selling CD in our history--which combined accounted for approximately one third of the sales decline."

"Although books outperformed the company as a whole, we were not pleased with our results," CEO Len Riggio said. "Fortunately, post-holiday traffic and sales have improved and we are optimistic for the remainder of the fiscal year, and we believe this most unusual retail season may be behind us."

Riggio told the Wall Street Journal: "There's no question that the online business is increasing every year and that retail store sales are shrinking. The decline in store traffic is something that almost every major retailer experienced." He added that he thinks there will be fewer retail stores in 20 years. "The question is which ones will survive and what will be the attributes that make customers come."

Despite the drop in holiday sales, B&N said it still expects to exceed last year's operating profit because of "strong expense management." It also downgraded sales predictions, saying it expects fiscal 2017 comp-store sales to fall approximately 6%.

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Bangor, Maine's BookMarc's Closing as Owner Retires

BookMarc's bookstore in Bangor, Maine, is closing at the end of the month, the Bangor Daily News reported.

"I'm ready to retire," owner Marc Berlin, who founded the store 28 years ago, told the newspaper. "You suddenly realize there are a lot of things you'd like to do. I've been putting it off for a couple of years. It's been a very difficult decision, and I rethink it all the time... but it's time." He said he plans to travel, hike more and pay attention to "a woodlot that I've been ignoring for a long time." Still, he plans to sell used books from a booth at Antique Marketplace in the spring.

Berlin, who is 65, said that he hesitated about retiring because "it's just so wonderful to talk about books with people. They come up with things I haven't heard of, and when that shipment of books comes in each week, it's like Christmas. I'll miss that terribly."

He had a few offers to buy the business, but none panned out.

In Greenfield, Mass., Bookstore and Toy Store Merging

Jessica Mullins, who owns the World Eye Bookshop and Magical Child toy store in Greenfield, Mass., is moving the bookstore into the toy store by the end of February because of "declining sales and an upcoming rent increase at the bookstore," the Recorder reported.

"It's sad, it's exciting, it's necessary for us," Mullins told the paper. "It's either move or have to close, so I think moving is a good choice in that case. We want to keep it going and keep doing what we're doing." She indicated that book sales have dropped 18% from 2015 to 2016.

Mullins has owned World Eye for nearly six years and bought Magical Child a year ago when it was in danger of closing. The stores are near one another on Main Street.

In the combined space, Mullins plans to offer the same amount of books on fewer bookcases, with more spine-out than face-out, and have fewer toys on the shelves. "We're going to try to keep the feel of World Eye as the dominant feeling, and then have a lot of the toys integrated," she said. For example, the toy store's microscopes might be placed with science books, and stuffed animals could be paired with appropriate children's books.

Creative Mindz Book Lounge Opens Second Location

Duwanda Epps

DuWanda Epps, owner of Creative Mindz Book Lounge in Wilson, N.C., has opened a second location, at 3780-B S. Main St. in Farmville, a town she described as "one of her favorite places," the Farmville Enterprise reported, noting that Creative Mindz "features an array of authors, most of whom are self-published.... Epps also manages a self-publishing service and has assisted three authors in publishing their books. Her publishing service also will be available at Creative Mindz Book Lounge."

"I want to showcase these authors with a goal to create a community that reads," she said, adding that she hopes her store will be an outlet to increase literacy and promote reading, as well as foster unification among the community. "I want our children to see that there is more to life than our phones. Open a book and open your mind."

Mayor Bobby Evans said the bookstore "creates a reading experience for our younger generations, and we can be involved by encouraging kids to pursue reading proficiency."

In NYC, Abrams Moving to Financial District from Chelsea

In New York City, Abrams is moving its headquarters from Chelsea to 195 Broadway in the financial district, taking the ninth floor of the 29-story building and some 42,000 square feet of office space, according to the Commercial Observer. The building also houses HarperCollins offices.

Abrams's office is currently located at 115 W. 18th Street, which has become crowded as the company has grown.

Amazon to Add Second Jacksonville, Fla., Warehouse

Amazon plans to open a second fulfillment center in Jacksonville, Fla., just six months after announcing the first one for the city. The one-million-square-foot site will join a substantial number of Amazon operations in the state, including four fulfillment centers, two sortation centers and Prime Now hubs in Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

Akash Chauhan, the company's v-p of North American operations, described Florida as "an ideal location." 

Jacksonville Mayor Mayor Lenny Curry called the news "an exciting development for Jacksonville and the Cecil Commerce Center. The center is a tremendous asset for our city offering companies like Amazon ample space, resources and accessibility."

Remembrances: Kristin Keith

Kristin Keith

Booksellers, colleagues and her many friends in the industry have been mourning Kristin Keith, the beloved Norton sales rep who died on Tuesday at age 45 after a battle with myelofibrosis.

A celebration of her life is planned for 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday, January 14, at the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany in Philadelphia, Pa. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Be the Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.

On Tuesday, Frazer Dobson, a Como Sales rep, expressed the feelings of many in the book business when he wrote, in part: "Our hearts are broken today. Our good friend and faithful Norton rep Kristin Keith had a bone marrow transplant a little over a year ago for a rare form of leukemia called myelofibrosis. Her recovery was slow but steady. Until it wasn't. Fungi got into her lungs, and they couldn't get them out. She went home to hospice Sunday, and then today I got the e-mail I didn't want to get. Kristin passed early this morning with her wonderful wife, Catherine, and her family by her side. If you're one of my friends from the book world, you've met Kristin; if you're not, you wish you had met her. She was simply the kindest, sweetest, most charming, and most positive people I've ever known. I never saw her in anything remotely resembling a bad mood. Her smile could light up not just a room but a shopping mall."

Among the many other tributes:

W. Drake McFeely, Norton's chairman: "Kristin's passion for books, for Norton, and for life itself were a model for us all. Her accounts adored her. All the rest of us who knew her felt the same way."

William F. Rusin, Norton: "Kristin was the epitome of an exceptional colleague and sales rep, knowledgeable, passionate, dedicated and loved by the booksellers. She will be deeply missed."

Eileen Dengler, executive director, New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association: "Kristin was loved by everyone in our region. She will be missed, not only as an incredible book person, but as an inspiring person who lit up a room with her smile and humor. Our hearts go out to those who loved her most, her wife, Catherine, her parents and her three sisters."

Todd A. Dickinson, Aaron's Books, Lititz, Pa., president, New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association: "I had the honor to know Kristin as a field rep to our store for almost a decade, and I was so pleased to be able to serve with her for several years on the NAIBA board of directors. Kristin was a remarkable rep for Norton and an even more remarkable person. She took her job as a field rep seriously, understanding what would work best for our unique small store, but she never took herself too seriously. She would laugh at the slightest thing and we loved her visits to Lititz. It's tough to think about going another season without a visit from Kristin, or another NAIBA conference without her.

"She contributed greatly during her time on the NAIBA board, offering important advice and direction while also doing so much of the underlying work that a nonprofit needs to keep going. Her passing is a loss to my wife Sam and myself, to the NAIBA community, and to the publishing world."

Cathy Fiebach, Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa.: "Kristin was the first person who greeted me that first rainy morning I opened and she will be sorely missed."

Mark LaFramboise, Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C.: "I met Kristin when she took over our territory for PGW. She always brought high quality chocolates to all of our appointments. She trained us in her Pavlovian way to always look forward to her visits. Not that we wouldn't anyway. We're all devastated over here."

Karen Spencer, Syracuse University Bookstore: "Kristin will be deeply missed. I remember the first time she visited my office, and how amazingly funny, witty, patient and knowledgeable she was. She was a treasure and a resource. She presented her book reviews like she was telling a story, she made every book sound captivating and I would read whatever she brought me. And then there was the chocolate... premium stuff! I miss her and feel privileged to have met her."

At Flyleaf Books

Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.: "Kristin was a class act, a star in a sea of really wonderful book people. I, too, thought she'd beat this and walk through our doors sometime soon. It's a silly thing, but I'm going out and buying some chocolates and putting it on the store counter in her memory."

Kate Weiss, Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Ky.: "After a few appointments with Kristin, I began to look forward to our sales meetings an embarrassing amount. She always began by presenting me with a chocolate and helped me--a brand new buyer (who didn't exactly know what I was doing)--feel at ease. Since those days, I've often thought about how much I looked forward to hearing about her adventures in New Zealand, finding out about the books she was excited about, and getting to discuss (with someone so knowledgeable) the workings of how to make a better bookstore and better buying decisions. Her company in that windowless, tiny office in the basement of the bookshop meant so much to me as a young woman and young bookseller. It's a terrible injustice that she will no longer be brightening up the back rooms and basement offices of bookstores with her smile."

P.K. Sindwani, Towne Book Center & Café, Collegeville, Pa.: "I have known Kristin for over five years professionally and personally. I always looked forward to our appointments. She was not only incredibly passionate about books but many other things as well. We talked about our families, politics and how it feels to not fit the norms that a society has set for us. She always took the time to talk to my staff and was very personable. She knew what everybody likes to read and brought galleys and chocolates for each one of us. It does not seem fair because she fought hard but she is in a better place now. May her Soul Rest in Peace."

Elise Cannon, PGW: "Once upon a time almost a decade ago, I wrote a note to colleagues and publishers telling them how much we would miss our dear, lovely Kristin Keith as she bid farewell to PGW for a new life representing Norton. Even though I was sad to see her leave, I had a vision of her looking out at a beautiful horizon: statuesque, smiling, steady and so very smart. She seemed possessed of some knowledge that the rest of us were still trying to figure out. I smiled as I typed the subject line: 'Kristin Sets Sail.'

"I like to think that she is still standing tall in the way she always did, looking out at a place we don't yet know. She was one of the most stalwart fellow travelers, weathering many changes with our industry and our company with incredible grace and a strong commitment to hard work. She navigated PGW through the tough times of Koen's bankruptcy, she dazzled us with her sales acumen at the indies, and she eagerly took on new accounts and challenges. When Perseus came along, she found new ways to tweak old practices, she went out of her way to be useful to her fellow reps, she dove into new technologies, gently guiding us through new systems, and most of all, she warmly shared her knowledge and love of books with buyers, publishers, authors and colleagues everywhere. Through it all, she sparkled and shone.

"Sail on, Silver Girl. We will miss you in so many ways."

Joe Murphy, Norton: "I first knew Kristin when I was a buyer at Olsson's in D.C. and she was my PGW rep. She would meet with me together with the other five or six buyers, and we were an unruly lot: we talked over reps, made off-color jokes, asked a battery of questions that were often of no discernable relevance to the books being discussed, and generally made life hell for our reps. Kristin never for a second lost the smile for which she was so well known, and never lost her patience for a moment--yet she also managed to keep us on track and get a good set of orders out of us. And she always brought chocolate.

"When I was hired by Norton and getting ready to move to California, Kristin made the most magnanimous gesture: she put together a five- or six-page document that was a top-to-bottom master class on How to Be a Sales Rep. It was so helpful on knowing what to expect, how to organize, how to map a territory, and how to curry favor with accounts (that chocolate, again). I made use of pretty much every one of her dozens of suggestions. I've been digging frantically for that document today--the hard drive on which it existed was three or four computers ago--but I'm holding out hope I can find it on paper somewhere. In any event, I've never forgotten her amazing act of kindness.

"I then had the delight of seeing her join the Norton sales force. Hanging out with her at sales conference was the best. She started only shortly after me, while I was still adjusting to the move to California. She was as impossibly kind, attentive, genuinely interested, and deeply helpful listening to the dreary details of my personal life over late-night drinks as she was dealing with the circus in the buying room at Olsson's. She was absolutely there and totally present when I needed her the most, as I'm certain she was for everyone who knew her.

"She was a wonderful, wonderful friend and the greatest of pros as a colleague. The thought of no longer seeing her smile at sales conference is terribly sad. I'sm so grateful for all she brought to my life."

Cindy Heidemann, PGW/Perseus/Legato: "I worked with Kristin at PGW and she ended up being one of my closest rep friends. We would burst into song at any provocation at sales conference and laugh ALL THE TIME. She was so smart, funny and so very kind. And that smile! We will all miss her so very much."

Charlie Young, Scholastic: "Kristin was known for her radiant smile, her positive attitude and professionalism. Just seeing her for a brief moment at a bookseller gathering would brighten the day immeasurably. Kristin's loss leaves a big gap in the bookselling community, but her loving manner, her laughter, her spirit and that Cheshire Cat smile will live on forever among those of us lucky enough to have known her."

Steven C. Ballinger, Princeton University Press: "I met Kristin in her role as a buyer/manager for Tower Books in Fairfax, Va. We got to chatting about where we were originally from and it turned out that we were both exiles from Salt Lake City, Utah. Then we discovered we were from the same neighborhood and that we went to the same high school, East High, on 13th East, only with about 20 years difference. We both had the same French teacher, Miss Hemstead, a wisp of an English woman, who could terrify 16-year-olds. All the best to you Kristen. You will be sorely missed."

Tim Hepp, Simon & Schuster: "Kristin was amazingly kind with heart of gold. EVERYONE who encountered her was enriched by knowing and spending time with her. This is a great loss to our NAIBA community and to all of us who loved her so much."

Andrea Tetrick, PGW/Perseus/Legato: "I met the 22-year-old Kristin Keith back in December 1993, when she accepted seasonal work for Tower Books in Portland, Ore. The quality of Kristin's work soon made her a valuable full-time member of the crew, while her charm and indefatigable good cheer and boundless enthusiasm for life endeared me to her, personally. Big smile, bright flashing eyes, smart as a whip--what wasn't to love? Within seven months or so of our meeting, I was on my way to the Washington, D.C., as regional manager for Tower Books at the beginning of an optimistic company-wide expansion of bookstores.

"Soon thereafter, while juggling the opening of two bookstores in the D.C. metro area, it struck me rather resoundingly one day that I could sorely use the help of a stalwart and enterprising young bookseller like Kristin to help shape the face of Tower Books in the region. I telephoned Kristin on a whim, to see if she might want to relocate to D.C. to work with me. She had since left Tower to work at the Portland Opera, and I had no forwarding number for Kristin beyond the opera's box office. I called and left a message for her, a sort of Hail Mary that I did not really expect to bear fruit. That very same day Kristin tracked me down, independently, having no idea about my own call, since she had decided the opera job wasn't for her. She found me on the floor of the Rockville Tower Records store and while Pearl Jam blasted over the stereo system, she asked me over the phone if I had a job for her, as she was intrigued by the idea of living on the East Coast. It was one of those synchronicitous moments when you realize that a person's path is, for a time at least, inextricably combined with your own.

"Kristin worked with me at Tower in the D.C. area for two years or so before Koen very savvily enticed her to move to Philadelphia to buy books for their distribution business. When she told me a bit nervously that she had accepted the Koen position, she broke the news by handing me a bottle of Glenlivet 15, when it really should've been me giving her such a gift in tribute to her friendship and superior work over the years. But that's the way Kristin's heart worked--generous at every turn.

"Several years later when I left Publishers Group West to move to the mountains of California, I again rang up Kristin, this time asking her if she would be interested in taking my job as Mid-Atlantic sales representative for PGW, knowing that without a doubt she would be a natural. Kristin was indeed interested and worked at PGW for a time before moving to W.W. Norton, where she honed her considerable skills to become one of the very best reps in the business.

"For my part, I am only happy Kristin and I were able to work together in so many different capacities over the years. It has been an honor and a delight to know such a beautiful soul and see Kristin blossom in so many ways. She flew planes! She ate fire! She kicked ass at pool! She fashioned intricate origami jewels! The list goes on... The bittersweet reality that we all must face is that we can now only witness Kristin's flowering through the continued example her influence seeds in her many friends, family and colleagues. This is more than hard to take. But just as Kristin faced the challenges of her illness with such grace and good humor, so too must we endure her absence in our lives with the kind of inner mettle she would have applied to such. We owe her this and so much more."


Powell's Books Sends 10 Books Each to Obama and Trump

Powell's CEO Miriam Sontz

In December, Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., invited customers to suggest books for President Obama and President-Elect Trump as they move into new roles. After hundreds of recommendations, the store chose 10 books each for the incoming and outgoing presidents "with a focus on informative, entertaining, and inspirational titles." The books are being sent in time for Inauguration Day.

In a note to both recipients, Powell's CEO Miriam Sontz wrote: "All of us have great faith in the transformative nature of books--we are passionate about the impact reading can have on our personal lives and on the life of our country. Those of us in the book business are also optimists. We know that life will always present challenges and books will always be there to help us."

The 10 books for President Obama:
A Full Life by Jimmy Carter
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
My Beer Year by Lucy Burningham
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The 10 books for President-Elect Trump:
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

For comments by those who recommended the books, click here.

Cool Idea of the Day: Politics & Prose's Teach-In Series

In advance of Donald Trump's inauguration later this month, Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., will host a teach-in on civil liberties this Sunday, January 8. The teach-in, the first in a series that continues through the winter, will feature a discussion with David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Todd A. Cox, director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, on how best to protect civil liberties, the First Amendment and the right to vote in the months and years ahead.

"Much as teach-ins became a vital tool for public advocacy and social justice efforts during the 1960s, we believe they can serve the same purpose today," said Politics & Prose in its newsletter. "The bookstore is organizing them in the spirit that has guided P&P over the past three decades--as a place committed to strengthening our community by providing an open forum for rigorous, respectful dialogue on the challenges that America faces."

The free event will start at 2:30 p.m., and will be livestreamed through Facebook Live and can be tracked on Twitter with the hashtag #TeachIn. Politics & Prose's second teach-in will take place on Friday, January 20, Inauguration Day, and focus on women's rights.

Personnel Changes at Simon & Schuster, Take Two

Yesterday's item about Brian Kelleher leaving Simon & Schuster after 28 years included an incorrect e-mail address. Brian may be reached at

Media and Movies

Movies: I Am Not Your Negro

The official trailer has been released for I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck. In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends--Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin's death in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of this manuscript. Peck has envisioned the book Baldwin never finished as a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in the U.S., using Baldwin's original words and archival material.

Signature noted the trailer shows that the film "features extensive archival footage, television interviews with Baldwin, and the author's words as read by Samuel L. Jackson. I Am Not Your Negro aims for an unflinching--and unfortunately all too relevant--chronicle of the history of race relations in the United States." It opens in theaters nationwide February 3.

Books & Authors

Awards: Jhalak Prize Longlist

A 12-book longlist has been announced for the inaugural £1,000 (about $1,230) Jhalak Prize Book of the Year by a Writer of Color, which celebrates works by British/British resident BAME authors. The longlist consists of "fiction, YA, nonfiction, debuts, short stories and genre and is an exciting snapshot of the incredible array of writers of color in Britain at the moment," organizers said. A shortlist will be released February 6 and the winner revealed during Bare Lit Festival 2017. The Jhalak Prize longlisted titles are:

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
Nine Is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi
Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
In the Bonesetter's Waiting Room by Arathi Prasad
Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross
Augustown by Kei Miller
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

Reading with... V.S. Alexander

V.S. Alexander, who also writes under the name Michael Meeske, is a student of history with a strong interest in music and the visual arts. His novel The Magdalen Girls (Kensington, December 27, 2016) tells the story of three young women banished by their families to the harsh life of servitude and abuse at a Magdalen laundry in 1962 Dublin. Alexander lives in Florida and is at work on a second historical novel.

On your nightstand now:

My nightstand happens to be an old wicker laundry basket that I'm too sentimental to part with. On it are The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake, because every writer should read them; The Exile Breed by Charles Egan and Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, both relating to my current work in progress (and the Shakespeare has an 1894 Vermont school library bookplate pasted on the inside cover); and finally, The Bedside Companion to Sherlock Holmes by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister, because it's fun.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Easy. A 1957 copy of David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd purchased through the Weekly Reader Children's Book Club. I rarely touch it now because I'm afraid it will crumble in my hands. The cover is nicked and the pages are continuing their inexorable trudge to rusty brown oblivion. This book introduced me to the worlds of words and fantasy. It's a meditation on death and rebirth that has never left me.

Your top five authors:

I don't like to rank working authors because there are so many excellent ones writing today. The list would be too long and I also don't want to slight anyone. However, there are many authors who have influenced my work, the most significant being Edgar Allan Poe. Others include Oscar Wilde, Shirley Jackson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gustave Flaubert and Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë, those spirited geniuses from Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Book you've faked reading:

Oh, I hate to say this for fear of being slapped, but I believe every writer has one classic they couldn't get through. Mine was Moby-Dick. I had to read it for an American Literature class in college. CliffsNotes on that one. I should pick it up again and see what happens.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I love to discover and promote books that have disappeared, or somehow fly under the radar. One of my favorite discovered reads is Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker. This lovely coming-of-age novel is set in the wheat country of central Montana in the 1940s. The reader cannot help but get caught up in the heroine's time and place thanks to Walker's vivid, flinty prose. It's a stunning novel that will live with you long after the last page is read.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Covers can catch the eye but it's the writing that captures my interest. However, Irène Némirovsky's World War II novel Suite Française, with its striking cover photo by Roger-Viollet, of two young lovers in war-torn France, perfectly captures the mood.

Book you hid from your parents:

The Harrad Experiment (1973) by Robert H. Rimmer. Hot stuff, then. Under-the-covers-with-the-flashlight kind of reading.

Book that changed your life:

Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe, a Scholastic Library edition from 1960, with an introduction by Groff Conklin. To this day, that greenish-yellow, pre-psychedelic portrait of Poe on the cover looks out at me with sinister fascination. Every tale inside was a revelation, from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" to "Metzengerstein."

Favorite line from a book:

From Madame Bovary by Flaubert, the Modern Library Edition:
"Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

Achingly beautiful.

Five books you'll never part with:

Please don't make me give up all of my books except for five! I'll keep my Yorkshire novels and add these:

Madame Bovary by Flaubert
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Any edition of The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
The Assassins by Joyce Carol Oates
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Who wouldn't want to discover this novel for the first time?

Fiction you read while researching your latest book:

Because The Magdalen Girls was set in 1962 Dublin, I read as much nonfiction material as I could get my hands on, but also several novels I felt would add realism to my work. The Magdalen by Marita Conlon-McKenna, the story of how a girl came to be "incarcerated" in a Magdalen laundry and her experiences there. The Magdalen Martyrs by Ken Bruen, a disturbing, fascinating novel that weaves the Magdalens into Bruen's wonderful detective series. For a lesson in Irish dialect, I read Brendan O'Carroll's funny and touching The Mammy.

Book Review

Review: Modern Death

Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life by Haider Warraich (St. Martin's Press, $26.99 hardcover, 336p., 9781250104588, February 7, 2017)

In Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life, Haider Warraich explores how human death has evolved over the course of history and offers recommendations for its future. A medical doctor, Warraich supplements his research with anecdotes from his personal experience, and draws on literature, theology, statistics and legal theory as well as the hard sciences. The resulting expert opinion is heartfelt, convincing and well informed.
Warraich begins with the mechanics of how cells die and the opportunities for analogy they offer: cells choose to die to promote the good of the organism; not dying on time is as bad as dying too soon. He recounts the medical advances that have increased human life spans astronomically in the last two centuries. Chiefly, people now die far less frequently from infection and simple injuries, instead living long enough to die of cancer and heart disease. Because of both medical and cultural shifts, more people die in hospitals or nursing homes than at home.

This is the story of how medicine learned to save and expand lives--especially through procedures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation--and then how medicine learned not to resuscitate. Warraich shows what modern death looks like, how it works, its achievements and shortcomings--and then investigates what a good death could look like, and how we can do better. Science has lengthened lives so successfully, delayed death so thoroughly, that our new problem often is not staying alive, but letting go.

In what comes to feel like the real heart of Modern Death, Warraich then studies the nuances of euthanasia, assisted suicides and the withdrawal of life support systems, and their legal histories in the United States and worldwide. He finds that these three categories of death are far less distinct than generally believed. Finally, he advocates strongly for patients' control over their own ends of life and exhorts his readers--patients and physicians alike--to discuss death openly.

These conclusions form the book's central purpose. Along the way, Warraich explores different cultures' and religions' approaches to death. He also discusses the philosophical and legal difficulties in defining death and life. Warraich's chief goal is a better end-of-life experience for everyone.

If Modern Death occasionally uses a few more words than necessary, the inclusion of Warraich's anecdotal experiences enliven what could have been a dry academic text. For readers interested in its thesis--that death is an important part of life, and medicine and society could do a better job of delivering this experience--it is a sincere and thorough examination of an often overlooked subject. Well served by Warraich's professional expertise and earnest emphasis, this is an indispensable entry into the conversation about death. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: This interdisciplinary study of death and how we can improve--not avoid--it is highly readable and timely.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Have You Heard? Have You Seen? Have You Read?

John Berger (photo: Ji-Elle)

These questions are an integral part of my New Year's resolution. They look forward. They engage. They prompt both replies and infinite follow-up "Have you...?" questions from others.

Why these in particular? Maybe because the second day of 2017 began so badly, with news of John Berger's death. His writing and art have been in my life for a long, long time. In November, I'd written a column to celebrate his 90th birthday. Just after Christmas, I watched the new documentary film The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger. He had an extraordinary life by any measure, but his death still hit me hard.

On Monday, Simon McBurney, the actor, director and founder of British theater company Complicite, tweeted: "Listener, grinder of lenses, poet, painter, seer. My Guide. Philosopher. Friend. John Berger left us this morning. Now you are everywhere."

In a 2014 BBC Radio interview, McBurney spoke of how Berger's And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos had influenced his theatrical work with ideas of connection, memory, narrative and mortality, noting that Berger "digs in the vulnerable earth of human experience, and joins the fragments he uncovers with an eye as sure as an astronomer, a gesture as gentle as a carpenter."

This particular new year demands a sensory adjustment. As it happens, I just had one. On Wednesday night, I saw McBurney's extraordinary new play The Encounter on Broadway. In his New York Times review, Ben Brantley wrote: "The great privilege of being there, in person, to witness The Encounter comes from seeing a performer, in the sweaty flesh, and a team of technicians working hard to put on a show that somehow transcends what they're doing in plain view.... Let yourself go, if you dare, and you enter a world beyond borders of regimented thoughts and senses, one in which the ear sees more than the eye."

I can't begin to capture the magical blend of visual and aural effects McBurney employs to re-imagine Petru Popescu's nonfiction book Amazon Beaming, which recounts the adventures (much too tame a word) of Loren McIntyre, an American photographer who became lost in a remote area of Brazilian rainforest in 1969 and experienced a life-altering encounter with the Mayoruna tribe. (To note that the audience wore headphones during the performance is just a hint at the immersive nature of McBurney's staging of the tale.)

Have you seen it? Have you heard it? Have you read it?

Maybe those are just questions that lead to this one: Have you read A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel by British artist Tom Philips? This book has been following me around for awhile. I've written about it several times, including a brief Tin House essay in 2004, and a 2012 Shelf column after the fifth edition of this ever-evolving art/fiction/poetry/time travel project was published. 

Next week, the sixth and final edition of A Humument will be released by Thames and Hudson here. I'll buy that one, too, and shelve it next to my volumes two, four and five. They are as similar and unique as siblings.

For the past 50 years, Phillips has been acquiring used copies of W.H. Mallock's overheated Victorian novel A Human Document and "treating" the pages with his art while leaving selected words from the original text exposed. In the process, he has become Mallock's consummate and all-consuming reader by creating an illustrated narrative in verse that merges the contemporary with the 19th century.

Have you heard that Phillips was recently named to the panel of judges for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, along with Colin Thubron, Sarah Hall, Lila Azam Zanganeh and chair Baroness Lola Young? The Guardian introduced Phillips as "a polymath who has painted Iris Murdoch, collaborated with film-maker Peter Greenway on a TV series based on Dante's Inferno and designed album covers for Brian Eno and King Crimson--[He] made his literary name with collage works, beginning with his cult 1970 classic, A Humument."

I think he's an excellent choice. A love for words and literature infuses his art ("After Henry James," "Curriculum Vitae," "Samuel Beckett," "A TV Dante"). Phillips, who read English Literature and Anglo Saxon at St Catherine's College, Oxford, has observed that he loves "the smell of a library and the feel of books. Most of all I love the serendipity and the aleatory quirks of browsing.... Every book, however unpromising, will turn out to have its day."

Have you heard (and seen) him discuss A Humument in a recent video?

Writing about the new edition, Allison Meier noted: "Yet one of the last challenges of this edition related to Mallock himself. Phillips finally tracked down an image of his grave, and it's his name carved in its stone that concludes the ultimate edition of A Humument. Over the tomb wind these concluding words that give tribute to their long posthumous collaboration: 'by whose/ bones my bones/ my best,/ perpetuate/ your grave in mine fused/ page/ for/ page.' "

Which leads me back to John Berger. "Now you are everywhere," McBurney wrote on Monday. And from the stage of the Golden Theatre Wednesday night, he whispered in our ears, with the telepathic voice of a Mayurama headman, "Some of us are friends."

Good words... for a new year. As I said at the beginning, I've decided to "celebrate" the start of 2017 with questions instead of resolutions. Have you heard Kamasi Washington's album The Epic? Have you seen Jim Jarmusch's film Paterson? Have you read Will Schwalbe's Books for Living?

Go ahead, ask me questions.

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

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