Shelf Awareness for Friday, May 5, 2017

Overlook Press: Bad Men by Julie Mae Cohen

Shadow Mountain: Highcliffe House (Proper Romance Regency) by Megan Walker

Simon & Schuster: Register for the Simon & Schuster Fall Preview!

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time Kaliane Bradley

Akaschic Books, Ltd: Go the Fuck to Sleep Series by Adam Mansbach, Illustrated by Ricardo Cortés

Tommy Nelson: You'll Always Have a Friend: What to Do When the Lonelies Come by Emily Ley, Illustrated by Romina Galotta


New Aura H2O Waterproof E-Reader Coming from Kobo

Rakuten Kobo is launching the new Kobo Aura H2O, an updated version of its waterproof e-reader that allows users "to read in direct sunlight due to its anti-glare E Ink display, for a print-on-paper like reading experience." The device features ComfortLight PRO, designed to "reduce blue-light spectrum," and HZO Protection "for worry-free reading near water." It will be offered in black, and retail for CA$199.99 (about US$145.80).

Starting May 22, the Kobo Aura H2O will be available in Canada at and selected retailers (advance orders begin May 15). It will also be available on that date in the U.S., U.K., Italy, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Turkey. As of June, the device will be available in Sweden, and in July Australia, New Zealand, and Philippines; Mexico and Brazil will follow later this year.

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Wimpy Kid Gets Global Brand Manager

Vanessa Jedrej

Vanessa Jedrej has been appointed global brand manager at Wimpy Kid, Inc., a new position that aims to "accelerate global book and product sales and propel growth" for the Wimpy Kid franchise, created by Jeff Kinney, which now includes films, a musical and animated TV projects in addition to the bestselling books.

Jedrej will start June 12. She was most recently marketing director at Penguin Random House Children's in the U.K., where she headed "marketing thinking, defining global strategies, and brand-building" for such properties as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Percy Jackson and works by Roald Dahl.

She earlier managed U.K. marketing for Wimpy Kid, during which time she won industry awards including the Book Marketing Society Award for Book Marketing Campaign of the Year 2013 and the Book Marketing Society Award for Best Brand Management for 2012 and 2013.

Jeff Kinney praised Jedrej's "talent, experience, and enthusiasm," adding that she "has long been a champion of the Wimpy Kid series, and I can't think of a more qualified person to help the brand reach higher heights."

Jedrej said, "I am hugely looking forward to taking a driving seat and working with Jeff's publishers around the world to find smart new ways to fuel the global Wimpy Kid fandom and inspire millions more children to switch on to reading because of Jeff's absolutely addictive brand."

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which made its book debut 10 years ago, has more than 180 million copies in print around the world, in 53 languages. The fourth Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, The Long Haul, opens on May 19, and the 12th book in the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway, goes on sale worldwide on November 7.

GLOW: Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura: Wild Life: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Living Wonders by Cara Giaimo, Joshua Foer, and Atlas Obscura

Trading Director Siôn Hamilton Leaves Foyles

Siôn Hamilton, trading director at Foyles, has left the company after 15 years to address his "work-life balance," the Bookseller reported. Hamilton joined the British bookshop chain in 2001 and was appointed ground floor manager at Charing Cross Road in 2004. In 2007 he joined the restructured management team for the company, becoming manager of Charing Cross Road in 2009.

Foyles CEO Paul Currie said Hamilton's "work leading the monumental project of developing our iconic new flagship transformed the business and every time we walk through the doors we will be reminded of the impact he made and the debt we owe him. Siôn is a true ambassador for books and bookselling and I speak for myself and all of my colleagues when I say we will miss him a great deal."

Currie added: "While I am sad that Siôn has taken this decision, I understand that having a board-level role, a lengthy daily commute [from East Anglia] and a young family have made it hard for him to maintain a positive work-life balance, which this change will give him a chance to redress. I know that whatever he does next he will approach with wisdom, thoughtfulness and authority, and I wish him all the very best."

Noting that it was with "equal parts sadness and excitement" that he made the decision, Hamilton said: "I have spent over 15 glorious years at the heart of the business and have had the opportunity to play a part in its growth... But now it is time for pastures new--time to take stock before heading off for new adventures."

Graphic Universe (Tm): Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit by Josh Hicks

May Indie Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Yesterday, the American Booksellers Association's e-newsletter edition of the Indie Next List for May was delivered to more than a third of a million of the country's best book readers. The newsletter was sent to customers of 103 independent bookstores, with a combined total of almost 404,000 subscribers.

The e-newsletter, powered by Shelf Awareness, features all of the month's Indie Next List titles, with bookseller quotes and "buy now" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on the sending store's website. The newsletter, which is branded with each store's logo, also includes an interview (from Bookselling This Week) with the author whose book was chosen by booksellers as the number-one Indie Next List pick for the month, in this case Broken River by J. Robert Lennon (Graywolf Press).

For a sample of the May newsletter, see this one from Paragraphs Bookstore, Mount Vernon, Ohio, which just began sending the e-version of the Indie Next List.

Obituary Note: Jack Mueller

Poet Jack Mueller, "who was a fixture in San Francisco's North Beach scene of the 1970s and '80s," died April 27, the Chronicle reported. He was 74. Mueller published six collections of poetry, including Amor Fati, and two books of sketches. For 15 years, he served as executive director and chairman of the National Poetry Association in San Francisco.

"Jack Mueller is the biggest-hearted poet I have ever known," said Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and co-founder of City Lights Bookstore.

Mueller's daughter, Cristina, said while her father was in the hospital for the past four months, he would teach the staff workers one of his short poems:

You will never
understand me

I will never
understand you.

Love starts there.


Image of the Day: NEIBA Booksellers Meet MIT Press

At a Wednesday open house, booksellers from a dozen New England Independent Booksellers Association member bookstores met with nine trade editors from the MIT Press at the new MIT Press Bookstore, which stocks books from the press as well as from other publishers. Pictured with MIT Press editors, booksellers and sales staff are booksellers from Harvard Book Store, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Newtonville Books, Riff Raff, Porter Square Books, Brookline Booksmith and Wellesley Books. Photo: Emma Homsted

'50 of the Best Indie Bookstores in America'

"How many have you visited?" asked the Huffington Post in showcasing "50 of the Best Indie Bookstores in America" to help celebrate Independent Bookstore Day. "After days of waxing poetic, we came up with a mega-list of incredible indie bookstores that are alive, well and deserving of your patronage on this most holy of literary holidays."

Pennie Picks Lilac Girls

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has chosen Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (Ballantine, $17, 9781101883082) as her pick of the month for May. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:

"Once again a weekend of leisurely reading has revealed a bit of history about which I knew nothing. All I can do is thank first-time author Martha Hall Kelly for this month's book buyer's pick, Lilac Girls.

"Inspired by true events, Lilac Girls tells the story of New York socialite Caroline Ferriday, who fought for a group of concentration camp survivors known as the Ravensbrück 'rabbits.' Ferriday, along with a female Nazi physician and a Polish girl (a composite based on several survivors) serve as narrators of this powerful novel you won't soon forget.

"You'll want to share this book with everyone you know."

Personnel Changes at [words] Bookstore

Merril Speck

Merril Speck has joined [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J., as floor manager. He has more than 15 years of experience working in retail, most recently as store manager at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York City, where he began as a volunteer seven years ago.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Charlamagne Tha God on Politics Nation

MSNBC's Al Sharpton's Politics Nation: Charlamagne Tha God, author of Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It (Touchstone, $25.99, 9781501145308).

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child Opening on Broadway Next April

The hit London play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open on Broadway next April 22, "setting the stage for one of the cultural events of 2018 in New York," the New York Times reported, noting that the London production "will arrive at Broadway's Lyric Theater in two parts, which audiences can watch over two days or in a single marathon day." J.K. Rowling wrote the story with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. Casting has not been announced, but Tiffany will stay on to direct the production. Tickets go on sale this fall.

Books & Authors

Awards: Rea Short Story; RBC Bronwen Wallace

Jim Shepard has won the $30,000 2016 Rea Award for the Short Story, given to "a writer who has made a significant contribution to the discipline of the short story form." Rea is the author of five short story collections and seven novels. The World to Come: Stories was published by Knopf earlier this year.

The judges wrote in part that Shephard has "proved himself an original, darkly funny, and deeply humane writer. His prodigious research combined with a kind of X-ray vision of the soul produces stories that we learn from, that improve us, that expand our sense of what a life can be. He is a master of stance and throwaway wit. His scholarship and surpassing imagination work in tandem in matchless stories that glorify the commonplace and understate the extraordinary. He reveals people--not 'characters'--through sports, history, dogs, drama, the Hindenburg. He sees the everyday violence of family life as both a given and an illimitable mystery. He shows us the world as it could have been, as it is, and, to cite his most recent collection: The World to Come."


The Writers' Trust of Canada has announced finalists for the CA$10,000 (about US$7,270) RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which is presented to writers under the age of 35 who are unpublished in book form and alternates each year between poetry and short fiction. This year's poetry finalists are Tyler Engstrom for "after thoughts," Domenica Martinello for "All Day I Dream About Sirens" and Noor Naga for "The Mistress and the Ping." The winner will be announced May 30 in Toronto.

Reading with... Amita Trasi

photo: Sameer Rao

Amita Trasi's debut novel is The Color of Our Sky (Morrow, April 18, 2017). Trasi was born and raised in Mumbai; she has an MBA in Human Resource Management and lives in Woodlands, Tex., with her husband and two cats.

On your nightstand now:

I'm reading Karan Mahajan's The Association of Small Bombs, which I think is a great take on the perpetrators and victims of terrorism--really brave and beautiful writing. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn and Life Drawing by Robin Black are the other two on my to-be-read pile.

Favorite book when you were a child:

It's difficult to choose just one! I loved the Enid Blyton novels especially the Famous Five series; I enjoyed Nancy Drew, especially The Hidden Staircase--there was always something so sinister about that mansion. I was also in love with the Malory Towers and St Clare's series, and often pleaded with my parents to enroll me in a boarding school.

Your top five authors:

Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munro, Khaled Hosseini, Arundhati Roy and Rohinton Mistry.

Book you've faked reading:

In my early 20s, I faked reading Anna Karenina for a book meet hosted by a local library. I went to the discussion armed with a book summary and returned home completely embarrassed. I read the book eventually, of course, but the incident is tattooed in my brain and not prone to be repeated.

Book you're an evangelist for:

White Oleander by Janet Fitch: it has such lyrical, beautiful writing. It was astonishing and very sad to see Astrid (like so many children really do) move from one foster home to another, often with people who can't take care of her. Abuse and abandonment become part of her childhood, something that unfortunately, many children in the foster care system experience. It's one of those books that can truly show the heart of a child waiting and wanting to be loved. I will always recommend that book.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I picked up The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, the India edition, many years ago, although it wasn't just for the cover. It has this beautiful picture of the Sunderbans in India with a man and a woman at opposite ends in a rowboat. I love that cover.

Book you hid from your parents:

I don't think I ever had to hide a book from my parents. I had to hide comic books though because that wasn't considered "reading" in my family.

Book that changed your life:

There are many books that have changed my life in significant ways. Here are two:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I read it in my early teens and the possibility of human beings turning on each other was astonishing. The fact that humanity is a spectrum that can move from being civilized to an utter state of darkness was an eye-opener to me at the time.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Another marvelous book that opened my eyes to what refugees go through in their native country and the kind of brutal forces they are escaping. Little Bee is the face of so many refugees; it just broke my heart.

Favorite line from a book:

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." --I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Five books you'll never part with:

There are so many I'd never part with. Here are a few:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I absolutely loved that book, the tug of war between duty and love. In 19th-century America, it shows how difficult it is to have the courage to choose one's personal happiness over societal norms--a theme that still, even in this day and age, dominates some cultures in the world.

Book Review

Review: The Lost Letter

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor (Riverhead, $26 hardcover, 336p., 9780399185670, June 13, 2017)

Katie Nelson never shared her father's passion for stamp collecting. But as she tagged along with him on countless Sunday-morning drives around Los Angeles during her childhood, she came to understand the reason for his never-ending quest--or so she thought. Their trips to yard sales, thrift shops and estate sales yielded hundreds of old letters and sheets of yellowed stamps, and Katie always imagined her father, Ted, simply loved the thrill of the hunt. However, when she moves Ted, now widowed, to a memory-care facility, she sorts through his collection and finds an intriguing item: an unsent letter with a highly unusual German stamp from the 1930s. Jillian Cantor (Margot, The Hours Count) unravels the story of the stamp alongside Katie's family history in her third novel, The Lost Letter.

Cantor begins her narrative in 1939, with an unnamed young woman carrying letters through snowy woods in Austria. From there, she shifts back and forth between two eras: that of the Anschluss (Hitler's annexation of Austria) and Katie's quest to find out more about the stamp's provenance in 1980s Los Angeles. The World War II narrative follows the journey of Kristoff, a young artist working as an apprentice to stamp engraver Frederick Faber in the mountain town of Grotsburg. Faber's skill has brought him professional recognition and a comfortable living, but his abilities and his Jewish heritage also attract the unwelcome attention of the Nazis. Meanwhile, in 1989, Katie enlists the help of her grandmother (a German immigrant) and stamp dealer Benjamin Grossman, while also dealing with the dissolution of her marriage and her father's increasing memory problems.

Dual-narrative novels sometimes favor one story over the other, but Cantor balances both her stories with a deft hand. Her protagonists, Katie and Kristoff, are particularly vivid, but her supporting characters, especially Faber's daughters Elena and Miriam, are also complex and engaging. Neither narrative shies away from the horrors of this war: the destruction of Kristallnacht, the deportation of many Jews and the breaking up of families. But both stories offer glimmers of hope, whether through small acts of resistance (some of them involving the postal service) or larger stories of redemption. Cantor's conclusion skillfully draws together two sets of world events--including the fall of the Berlin Wall--and her characters' intertwined personal histories. The Lost Letter is a poignant story of love, sacrifice and the bravery of everyday resistance. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Jillian Cantor's third novel tells the story of an unusual World War II-era German stamp and its connection to an American family.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Pretending to Have Read Books as a Life Skill

"Since 1988, Pamela Paul has recorded the title and author of every book she reads in a battered notebook she calls her Book of Books--the eponymous 'Bob' of her engaging memoir, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues," Newsday reported Wednesday to introduce an interview with the author and New York Times Book Review editor.

Although she had "kept diaries sporadically" earlier in her life, Paul said that they were not as interesting or helpful as her Book of Books while she was writing the memoir: "[W]hen I look back in Bob, I think, 'Yeah, I remember that exactly. I remember reading that, I remember where I was, I remember why I read it, I remember what I thought.' That all felt like me; Bob was a very reliable reference point."

I envy her. Reading the brief interview with Paul sparked some thoughts about my own reading life as well as my, for lack of a better term, not-reading life. I realized that even though I am a Bob, there is no "Bob" for me to consult. I've never kept journals or books-I've-read lists during my six decades as a reader. There are, of course, hundreds of titles scattered along the trail behind me, and some vivid memories: discovering the James Bond novels in high school; stumbling across a paperback edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle on a pharmacy spinner rack in my small hometown; reading Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge at a particularly vulnerable moment in my life.

But no lists. Where have all the titles gone?

The upside, I suppose, is that there is also no hard evidence of all the books I never read and feel guilty about. This realization led me to consider the advantages of pretending to have read a book. 

Here's a confession from my bookseller days: sometimes I fictionalized my reading history just a touch. Call it a retail survival skill. You can't be an idealist through an entire 8-hour shift. For example, a customer might ask if I'd read a particular novel. Not wanting to lose complex handselling momentum (Let those among you who haven't done this cast the first stone.), I might begin with a parrying move on the national ("It's been getting great reviews.") or local ("Everyone in the bookstore who's read it loves it.) level. Sometimes, however, in a moment of weakness, I may have said, "Oh, I'm reading it now."

What did that even mean? I had opened it? Read the blurbs? The first line? It meant nothing. And more often than I would ever care to admit publicly, the strategy worked. I wonder what a journal of all the books I pretended, even if only for a desperate minute under frontline bookseller sales floor stress, to have read would look like.

Apparently, I'm in good company.

According to a recent survey by the U.K.'s Reading Agency, an impressive 41% of respondents admitted they "will stretch the truth" when it comes to what, or how much they have read. "Men are the biggest culprits, with one in five (19%) admitting they'd lie about their reading habits in order to impress in a job interview. Other top scenarios are stretching the truth while on a date, when meeting the in-laws and on social media profiles." An impressive 64% of 18-24-year-olds confessed to lying about the number of books, or the kinds of books, they've read, with 25% saying they have "lied about reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, when they have in fact just watched the film."

"Fibbing about our reading habits is, apparently, more common than we realize," David Barnett wrote in the Guardian earlier this week. "So, why do we fib? Not for shame at not having read these books, but to impress people by pretending we have done.... Still, I find it strangely heartening that people are still lying about reading in order to impress others--it means reading is at least still impressive."

Even Barnett has fallen prey to temptation: "A few years ago, while working at a regional newspaper, I had to interview a local author about his self-published novel. It was a 500-page brick of a thriller with tiny, close type, a good third of which a professional editor would cheerfully have hacked out.

" 'What did you think?' the writer demanded. 'Oh, I loved it,' I blithely lied, having managed about two pages before it brought on a migraine. He then quizzed me on the finer points of the sprawling, outlandish plot, and the individual characteristics and motivations of the cast of thousands. By the end, I was so exhausted I might as well have read the damn thing. But I think I got away with it."

I think I got away with it.

There are probably worse mottos. I believe the line is from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, though I can’t be certain since I read that novel (most of it anyway) a long, long time ago. Or did I?

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

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