Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Harper Voyager: Dragon Rider (Soulbound Saga #1) by Taran Matharu

Page Street YA: The Final Curse of Ophelia Cray by Christine Calella

HarperOne: I Finally Bought Some Jordans: Essays by Michael Arceneaux

Tor Nightfire: Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes

Severn River Publishing: Covert Action (Command and Control #5) by J.R. Olson and David Bruns

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Editors' Note

Blue Willow's Red Letter Day

Today's Shelf Awareness features two long articles about different aspects of one bookstore, the Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., owned by Valerie Koehler. The stories evolved separately and coincidentally. We considered running them on different days, but on the theory that no one can read too much about Koehler--and the amazing things she and her staff are doing--we present them both here. Besides, October is the store's 10th anniversary, and this is a good way to celebrate. Happy birthday!


HarperOne: Be a Revolution: How Everyday People Are Fighting Oppression and Changing the World--And How You Can, Too by Ijeoma Oluo


Notes: Canadian Market; Nominate the Best Children's Store

In Canada, chains account for about 60%-70% of the book retail market, indies have about 15% (roughly equivalent to U.S. indies' share of the market) and non-bookstores such as Wal-Mart and Costco have the rest, according to Canadian Booksellers Association figures quoted by Business Edge in a story about the state of independent booksellers in Canada.


The Women's National Book Association is seeking nominations for the 2007 Lucile Micheels Pannell Awards, which honor two bookstores, one general and one children's, that "excel at inspiring interest in reading and creatively bringing books and young people together." Winners will receive $1,000 and a framed piece of original art by a children's book illustrator; presentations will be made at BookExpo America.

To nominate a U.S. bookstore that inspires young people to read, provide the name of the store, address and phone number, a contact person at the store and e-mail address along with a brief statement about why the store is worthy of the award to or to Pannell Award Nomination, 2200 Sharondale Dr., Nashville, Tenn. 37215.

Deadline for nominations is January 12, 2007.  Please include your name and industry affiliation.


The University of Virginia Press is holding its annual warehouse sale with the theme "discover new worlds" on Friday, Oct. 20, 10-6, and Saturday, Oct. 21, 10-2. Categories include Virginiana, history, literature, African American studies, founding fathers and Civil War. The warehouse is located at 500 Edgemont Rd., driveway off McCormick Rd., Charlottesville, Va. For more information, call 434-982-2932 or go to the press's Web site.


Harpervia: Behind You Is the Sea by Susan Muaddi Darraj

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Barack Obama Stumps for The Audacity of Hope

Today on Good Morning America: Salman Rushdie talks about Shalimar the Clown (Random House, $14.95, 0679783482).


Today on the Early Show: pastry chef and Food Network star Gale Gand serves up confections from Chocolate and Vanilla (Crown, $22.50, 0307238520).


The Book Report, the weekly AM radio book-related show organized by Windows a bookshop, Monroe, La., will feature two interviews on today's show, which has the theme "autumn potpourri":

  • Darnell Arnoult, author of a Southern novel called Sufficient Grace (Free Press, $23, 074328447X)
  • Christina Vella, whose new book of history is called Indecent Secrets: The Infamous Murri Murder Affair (Free Press, $26, 074325046X).  Vella is also the author of Intimate Enemies: The Two Worlds of the Baroness de Pontalba (LSU Press, $22.95, 0807129623) about the woman who built the Pontalba Apartments in Jackson Square in New Orleans.

The show airs at 8 a.m. Central Time and can be heard live at; the archived edition will be posted this afternoon.


Today on the View: Fox's Bill O'Reilly, author of Culture Warrior (Broadway, $26, 0767920929).


Today on the Oprah Winfrey Show: Senator Barack Obama, who kicks off the media campaign for his new book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown, $25, 0307237699). Yesterday in Chicago, Obama made his first bookstore appearances for the book, at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park and a Borders downtown. According to the AP and the Chicago Sun-Times, at Borders, people lined up three hours before the store opened and six hours before the author-Senator arrived, and at 57th Street Books, lines went around the block.


Today on Imus in the Morning: 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, author of Unbowed: A Memoir (Knopf, $24.95, 0307263487). She'll also be on CNN's American Morning today.


Today WAMU's Diane Rehm Show takes a spin with Neal Thompson, author of Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR (Crown, $25, 1400082250).


Today on NPR's On Point: David Kuo, author of Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (Free Press, $25, 0743287126). Kuo is also on tonight's Colbert Report.


Today on the O'Reilly Factor: Alex Kuczynski talks about Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery (Doubleday, $24.95, 0385508530).


Tonight on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: former Attorney General John Ashfcroft, whose new book is Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice (Center Street , $24.99, 1599956802).


University of California Press: The Accidental Ecosystem: People and Wildlife in American Cities by Peter S. Alagona

Books & Authors

Awards: Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; James Laughlin

Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman (Sarabande Books) has won the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and the Nation, which awards $25,000 to "the most outstanding book of poetry published the previous year." The judges were poets Carl Dennis, Tony Hoagland, and Carol Muske-Dukes. Hoagland praised the winner this way: "Eleanor Lerman's poems have sociological savvy, philosophical rue, historical recognition, and vernacular resilience. They sing a song that is bravely gloomy, but they sing it with a fierce and earned dignity."

The finalists for the award were:
  • Christian Barter for The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press)
  • Jack Gilbert for Refusing Heaven (Knopf)
  • Dorianne Laux for Facts About the Moon (Norton)
  • Ron Slate for The Incentive of the Maggot (Mariner Books)


Duende by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press) has won the 2006 James Laughlin Award, a $5,000 prize that recognizes and supports a poet's second book--in this case the book will be published next year. The finalist for the prize is Frannie Lindsay's Lamb (Perugia Press, 2006). The Academy of American Poets wrote: "Smith's work is known for its lyrical beauty and its look outside the self. The voices in her poems inhabit a larger world beyond the confines of the present moment, but without ignoring immediate political and social concerns."


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Bookstore Web Sites & the Art of Hospitality

Valerie Koehler wants to improve her Web site. The owner of Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., told me so herself when we met at the MPIBA Show in Denver last month. We spoke at length that day and the conversation has continued. As she explores new ways to cultivate her online presence, Koehler has agreed to share some of her experiences--both good and bad--with us occasionally.

Blue Willow's current Web site is a nice place to visit. Working within the limitations of a template, Koehler manages to convey a personal and hospitable image for her store. The site includes a generous selection of monthly new offerings, Koehler's Letter from the Messy Desk and a wide-ranging, up-to-date Staff Picks section.

According to Koehler, the toughest challenge is "carving out the time to work on it daily. And I'm not talking about actually writing the language; just looking at it and working with my Web master. My immediate goal is to keep the site fresh and relevant. This is not as easy as it might sound. I employ a wonderful person who is very detail oriented, a quick learner and a huge web surfer. But the site must reflect our personality, and that personality must come from me. So I need to 'feed' her this information. It helps when she spends time at the shop so she can work with me on the 'feel' part of the site. But all small business owners are busy and we need to carve out this time."

The reward, however, comes from "opening it up and seeing the changes and thinking, 'Wow, that's us.' "
"Hospitality" seems an appropriate and important word to use here. In this industry, we tend to flog "service" a bit too often in describing our mission, but that's not necessarily our best game.

Danny Meyer, legendary restaurateur and owner of Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern and other eateries in New York City and author of Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, was asked to define hospitality in a recent USA Today interview: "Service can be measured based on how well a product was technically delivered. Hospitality can be measured based upon how the recipient of that service felt. Hospitality exists when something happens for you, not to you. It exists when you believe the other person is on your side. Service is truly a monologue. Hospitality has to be a dialogue." already exemplifies such hospitality to a degree. Koehler makes it as personal as she can, using "pictures, letters, and fresh commentary that sounds like us. It's easy to cut and paste the words from the publisher. It is much harder to write reviews that reflect our personal views. Give me an opening to talk to people and I can sell books and inspire my staff to do the same."

People visit her Web site now primarily for information about events, for staff recommendations and, "a distant third," to shop for books. When customers mention the site to her, it tends to be for "everything from coming in and telling us they are buying a book that we reviewed on our site to calling us to ask about a date correction. One person said I don't look anything like my picture."

Although Blue Willow does not sell many books online, Koehler would like to alter that. She is particularly interested in finding a way to build Web connections between potential customers and her best handsellers: "Long-range goals would be to increase sales on the site and to develop relationships--with our existing and new customers who are unable to visit us physically--that will result in sales that otherwise would be lost to our competitors." If done well, handselling conversations online can reap both sales and hospitality benefits. Setting up an at once secure yet welcoming structure in which to accomplish this is the challenge.

Koehler seems ready to take it on. She is not satisfied with a good Web site. She wants a better one and has dedicated herself to the messy, evolutionary process of replicating the hospitable aura of Blue Willow Bookshop in an online environment.

"We are attempting to keep the relationships alive with our wonderful front line booksellers and their customers," she says. "We cannot say I just want to sell books. We have to engage in the business of retailing and today that includes online."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

The Bestsellers

Blue Willow Bookshop Bestsellers--And Why

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards is the top-selling fiction title at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas, and it appears on the store's bestseller list (for the week ending October 13) because of an unusual form of handselling. "I call it bibliotherapy," says Blue Willow Bookshop owner Valerie Koehler, who is regularly invited to speak at book clubs in the Houston area. She offers suggestions and talks about what other clubs are reading, which has earned her the moniker "the book talk lady."

Koehler has books on hand to sell at each gathering, which range from groups of friends to a sorority alumni association to the middle school faculty ensemble that last week selected The Memory Keeper's Daughter as its inaugural read. (Edwards appeared at the store for a signing in August.) This initiative, which Koehler likened to a literary version of a Tupperware party, "has been a wonderful thing for us," she said. "It's a captive audience. These women are there, they're having fun, they're talking with each other, and they're selling each other books if they've read them before."

Koehler cited the store's top two categories as children's picture books and contemporary fiction, with a significant portion of the latter being purchased by book clubs. In addition to hosting two in-store groups (called the "Coffee Cake Book Club" and the "Tough Broads Out at Night Book Club"), Blue Willow Bookshop has 35 area book clubs registered at the store. The clubs' reading selections are featured on a display table, which has proven to be a popular promotion even for those who aren't in reading groups. "We have lots of customers who just shop that table," said Koehler, and it includes the store's current bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, March by Geraldine Brooks, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

The second bestselling fiction title on the store's list is The Covenant by Naomi Ragen, a suspense novel set in Jerusalem. The store has several registered Jewish book clubs, and "this one has been making the rounds quite a bit," said Koehler. "It has been popular this past year."

At No. 10 is Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, which was included on the staff picks shelf for the month of September and has also benefited from being in the store's displays of Book Sense Bestsellers and Book Sense Picks--all of which are located next to the cash register. "I think we will continue to sell it through Christmas very easily," said Koehler, "and certainly the national play it has been getting has not hurt." She envisions an even bigger hit with the paperback edition of The Thirteenth Tale, which she is looking forward to handselling to the reading groups she visits. "It will certainly end up on our book club table," she added.

One Blue Willow Bookshop customer in particular is responsible for the appearance of Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels in the No. 2 spot. Pagels recently spoke at Rice University in conjunction with the Houston Archaeological Society. "The woman who runs the society is a good customer and asked us to sell the books," said Koehler, who has additional offsite venues lined up for the fall and is looking to expand this segment of the store's business.

Another offsite event resulted in stellar sales for Art of the Cross by Mary Emmerling, host of the Country at Home series on HGTV and creative director of Country Home magazine, and the book holds the No. 1 position on this week's list. Koehler was approached by publisher Gibbs Smith about selling copies of the full-color, hardcover book during Emmerling's signing at the Original Round Top Antiques Fair in Round Top, Texas. The Blue Willow Bookshop staff "is very excited" about the book, said Koehler, and it's a contender for inclusion in the store's holiday newsletter. "It's a beautiful book, and it's the right price at $19.95," she commented. "It's not religious, but it could be conceived as somewhat of a spiritual book."

Another book that Koehler expects to keep selling through the holidays is the No. 9 title, I Feel Bad about My Neck by Nora Ephron. She attributed the book's success in part to the author's "witty sense of humor." Also, "it's a nice 'girlfriend book' to give to women of a certain age. And many of us are that age and therefore can relate," she added with a laugh. Another holiday favorite Koehler is anticipating is Erik Larson's Thunderstruck, which is on sale next week. "It's definitely going to be on our new holiday newsletter list," Koehler said.

Blue Willow Bookshop's holiday newsletter--available in both print and online versions--is a favorite with the staff (who choose the books) and customers, Koehler said. "We really work hard to pick a great selection." Two years ago the theme was "Twelve Books of Christmas," while last year it was a "Wish List" showcasing books the staff members themselves wanted to unwrap. This year's theme has yet to be decided, but it seems fitting for the store to celebrate the holidays by commemorating a major milestone: October 2006 marks Blue Willow Bookshop's 10th anniversary.--Shannon McKenna

Blue Willow Bookshop bestsellers during the week ended October 13:

1. Art of the Cross by Mary Emmerling, photography by Jim Arndt (Gibbs Smith, $19.95, 1423601157)
2. The Gnostic Gospels: A Startling Account of the Meaning of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity Based on Gnostic Gospels and Other Secret Texts by Elaine Pagels (Random House, $19.95, 0394502787)
3. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (Penguin, $14, 0143037145)
4. The Covenant by Naomi Ragen (St. Martin's Griffin, $12.95, 0312335067)
5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Random House Trade Paperbacks, $13.95, 0812968069)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (Penguin, $14, 0143036661)                          
7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Algonquin, $23.95, 1565124995)
8. Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (Vintage, $14.95, 0375725601)
9. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (Knopf, $19.95, 0307264556)
10. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Atria, $26, 0743298020)

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