Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 27, 2020


Scribner Book Company:  Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn

Del Rey Books: Malorie: A Bird Box Novel by Josh Malerman

Norton: New Reads for the Summer!

Roaring Brook Press: Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon Hale

HP Piazza: Regain Control of Your Publishing Content - Register Now

Minotaur Books: A Brotherhood Betrayed: The Man Behind the Rise and Fall of Murder, Inc. by Michael Cannell

Quotation of the Day

Aussies Adapt to 'This Ever-Changing Landscape'

"I don't often 'step out' from behind the enews to say hello but as everyone keeps saying--unprecedented times. Having been at the ABA for 16 years and weathering the ups and downs of bookshops with you and for you, I really just wanted to say what a privilege it has been to watch the way so many of you have adapted to this ever-changing landscape. You have had to make decisions on the fly and I suspect even having to change those decisions partway through implementing them.... We have always known that booksellers are a resourceful bunch but this has really highlighted that.

"I have also seen the comments of encouragement and support you are sending each other on social media and I'm sure that you are also doing that in a myriad of other ways. If you have not spoken to a fellow bookseller over the last few days can I suggest you consider doing so. Creating and supporting communities is something that booksellers excel at and you have definitely been there for your local communities, your staff and your colleagues."

--Robyn Huppert, marketing and communications manager for the Australian Booksellers Association, in the organization's most recent e-newsetter

AuthorBuzz for the Week of 05.25.20


News

B&N Closes 400 Stores Temporarily; NAIBA Donates to Binc

Barnes & Noble has temporarily shut more than 400 of its 627 stores, the company confirmed yesterday, saying that it is working with local and state officials.

In a letter to staff 10 days ago, Daunt thanked B&N's booksellers "sincerely for the exceptional professionalism you are demonstrating in such extraordinarily difficult circumstances" and said the company was working "to keep our business as robust as possible to ensure that it survives such an unprecedented disruption to trade." At the time, most of the stores were open, and while sales had declined, they were, he wrote, "well within what we need to remain profitable." Children's books and online sales had actually improved.

Last week, he continued, B&N was seeking to cut all expenditures that did not "impact the immediate running of the business. We start substantial reductions in cost at the Home Office. We seek not to damage our ability to run the company but set a clear priority to preserve positions in stores."

Store closures, however, would lead to "the hardest of choices. The truth is that we cannot close our doors and continue to pay our employees in the manner of Apple, Nike, Patagonia and REI. They can do this because they have the resources necessary; we, and most retailers of our sort, do not. We balance now our determination to save the business with an endeavor to be as fair as possible to all. In consequence, when a store is closed, employees will first make use of their Paid Time Off. When this is exhausted, we will pay employees with 1 or more years of service for up to 2 weeks based on their weekly standard hours. Temporarily, and with sincere regret, on closure we lay off all those employees impacted with less than 6 months employment on the day of closure."

Daunt stressed that when a closed store is allowed to reopen, "we intend to rehire. We hope that as few as possible will be mandated to close and that any closures are temporary. I am confident that we can carry the company through this catastrophe by taking such resolute actions. It is extraordinarily painful and, once again, I express my sincere appreciation for the dedication you are demonstrating."

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After announcements yesterday from Hachette Book Group and Macmillan, none of the Big Five publishers in the U.S. will attend the postponed BookExpo, Unbound and BookCon shows at the Javits Center in New York City. Originally scheduled for May 27-31, the shows were postponed to July 22-26.

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The New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association's board of directors voted to donate $25,000 to Binc's Covid-19 funds for booksellers. In a statement, NAIBA said: "With continued layoffs and bookstores closing, three authors have recognized the urgent need booksellers now face and have answered with a second matching gift challenge. Garth Stein, Tui Sutherland, and Amor Towles have combined their gifts and will match donations dollar for dollar up to a total of $41,000.... Your support will go to work immediately as part of the solution for these booksellers, relieving some of the stress and worry in these increasingly unsure times."

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Amazon has extended the closing of a warehouse in Shepherdsville, Ky., after three workers tested positive for Covid-19, "the first known instance of the online retailer indefinitely idling a U.S facility in response to the pandemic," Bloomberg reported. The facility, located south of Louisville, is dedicated to returning apparel and the move "comes after employees expressed concern that returning to work to process returned sneakers and wristwatches wasn't worth the risk of contracting or spreading the respiratory disease."

Initially, Amazon had told employees at a shift change Monday that the warehouse would be closed for 48 hours for "enhanced, daily deep cleaning." A few hours before the first workers were scheduled to return Wednesday, they learned from an automated call that the facility would remain closed for more cleaning.

In an e-mail sent last weekend to employees, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told those who did not have the option of working from home: "We're providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable. People are depending on us."

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More information about National Book Network: Although there have been furloughs, all orders are being shipped every day, returns processed, new orders entered, and books printed on site in the POD facility, NBN said. The only thing the company is not doing is going on sales calls for NBN clients.


GLOW: Bloomsbury Publishing: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


How Bookstores Are Coping: Resiliency, Cocktails, Gratitude

"This is a time when people need to be reading books. They might have more time. They might need to get their minds on other things and escape a little bit," Nancy Perot, co-owner of Interabang Books, Dallas, Tex., told the Morning News, which noted that the resilient indie bookstore has, in less than six months, faced a devastating tornado and now a deadly global pandemic. The bookstore has curtailed in-store shopping for an indefinite number of weeks.

"Of all things you worry about, a tornado was not on the list," Perot recalled. "And so, it really was disbelief. Complete disbelief. At the same time, nobody was hurt. We had good, solid insurance. Everything was completely replaceable. There were other people who suffered so much more.... I felt I needed to reassure my wonderful staff that we would reopen and that their jobs were secure. Yes, it was a low point, but then I think the high point was to see how the community responded. I think it made us deeply aware in a way that we had not seen before that people deeply cared about this store. Far more people than I would have even known."

Now, three months into the "very strange year that is 2020," Perot said that in the face of such moments, she "believes that all you can do is, well, stand. You really have no other choice," the Morning News wrote, adding that the tornado taught her "how deeply people have come to value Interabang. It also showed her that 'the worst thing that ever happened to us has managed to produce several silver linings.' The ceiling fell in, the walls fell in, the sprinklers came on. It started raining in Interabang. It found a cool new home, but then came the storm of COVID-19. And yet, Interabang is thriving. Alive, resilient, confident--much like its owner."

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Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., said yesterday that, "based on the official edict from Harris County that defines 'Essential Retail' as 'Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home,' we will be offering outdoor pickup from 9:30-5:00, Monday-Saturday."

Just a day before, Blue Willow had announced that, "in accordance with Mayor Sylvester Turner's #StayHomeWorkSafe Order for Harris County (currently through April 3), our happy place will temporarily close its doors tonight.... We are supporting distance learning and feel strongly that bookstores should be considered essential. This would allow us to continue serving you via phone orders and curbside pick-up. If you feel the same, please feel free to join us in appealing to the city of Houston.

"We've shared our love of books with our neighbors in #Houston and beyond for over 23 years and know we have many more ahead. We appreciate your support of our small but mighty bookstore and look forward to gathering together again."

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Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va., asked: "Are you missing your face-to-face interactions with Fountain?  We have the solution! Introducing Fountain Fix! Get down with some quality time with our booksellers, author guests, book industry friends, and your fellow readers in a casual, virtual format. Or it might just be me for an hour drinking a cocktail and talking to myself, which wouldn't be that different from my usual behavior, so if no one shows up, I won't be terribly put out. I don't know quite what we're doing yet, so I appreciate your patience while we figure this thing out."

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With a shelter in place order in effect in Illinois until April 7, Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago is closed to browsing but still fulfilling online orders of books and gift cards. Store owner Patrick Garnett reported that all employees are being paid in full with health care through those three weeks. Garnett is also using this time to e-mail publishers about extending terms once business resumes, and while he and his team appreciate publishers extending 30-60 days for invoices now due, they are also requesting publishers extend to 180 days for released backorders and new backlist orders placed after shelter in place is lifted and stores reopen.

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Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan., paid tribute to a key player in its current business model: "Order online (yes, you will get your points) at www.watermarkbooks.com. For delivery we have to acknowledge Diana from the USPS. She is hauling *ss to get books to their readers. Or call 316-682-1181 to talk to us or make an appointment to visit the store (we miss you!!!). Curbside pickup available from 8:30-3:00."

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Posted on Facebook Wednesday by Inkwood Books, Haddonfield, N.J.: "It's a rainy dreary day and I'm alone in the shop. I could get really blue right now but instead I'm going to share what touched me in our GREAT COMMUNITY over the last couple of days: (1) thank you card I received from a customer thanking us for her delivery. She even took the time to put cute Easter stickers on the envelope. Seriously @djwelsh1977 will your mom adopt me?! (2) bouquets of flowers our neighbors at @haddonfield_floral_company gave away yesterday as they shut down their coolers for who knows how long. They didn't have to do that, but they did. (3) homemade cookies bookseller Sarah left in the mailbox for my family (macadamia nut white chocolate!!) (4) the fruit salad @bistronj added to our takeout order--delicious and nutritious! (5) neighbors putting stuffed animals and rainbows in windows all over town for the little ones to find as they take what I'm sure are much needed outside walks (at appropriate distances of course!), and last but definitely not least (6) all the books people are ordering and reading (and that I get to pack in my favorite and ugliest sweatshirt!) while shut inside. Books have always kept me company and I hope they are doing the same for you! We're all having some rough days, but there are so many lovely gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness in our community I can't help but feel hopeful. Thanks to all!"


International Book Trade: B&T, Bookspeed Close; Publishers Offer Support

Baker & Taylor has closed its Bicester facility in England for everything other than "urgent and essential matters," the Bookseller reported, adding that distribution operations by Macmillan and HarperCollins, alongside wholesalers Bertrams and Gardners, remain operational.

Noting that the company reached its decision "to abide by the U.K. government's directives and to not risk the health of staff, our families and the general public," B&T said: "With the facility closed we are not taking deliveries at present, though will meet very unique customer needs where appropriate. We are not cancelling any orders as we will require all for when restrictions are lifted. We are planning for a swift and exciting return when this situation is over."

Bookspeed, a wholesaler based in Edinburgh, Scotland, closed its business during the coronavirus pandemic, with employees receiving full pay for March and April, supported by the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The company specializes in books, games and stationery, supplying more than 1,500 retailers across the U.K. and Ireland, and employs almost 50 people at its offices and warehouses.

Gardners announced it is "moving to re-engineer credit terms for independents, 'in a bid to preserve liquidity in bookselling and ensure the viability of indie bookshops as we navigate and ultimately emerge from this predicament,' " the Bookseller reported, observing that the move followed discussions with the Booksellers Association about how to support indies during the crisis.

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In the U.K., Pan Macmillan is offering "financial support," as well as focusing on helping indies to engage with their communities, while Hachette "is investigating whether it can make an extended credit limit available," the Bookseller reported. "Penguin Random House said it was working with the Booksellers Association to explore how it could help all retailers, and HarperCollins said it is 'absolutely committed' to helping independents and is currently working with shops on a one-to-one basis."

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Bricks-and-mortar bookstores in Shanghai are "taking new steps such as open-air book fairs and 'take-out' services to get themselves through the novel coronavirus outbreak," China Daily reported. Most bricks-and-mortar bookstores in China have reopened to the public since early March, and passenger flow in Shanghai's bookstores has recovered to about half of what it was before the outbreak.

Many booksellers are shifting their markets and services online. China Daily noted that the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore has settled "in Meituan Dianping, China's online food delivery platform, and launched 'take-out' service to attract more customers and mitigate the effect of the outbreak.... According to Meituan Dianping, three bricks-and-mortar bookstores in Shanghai and a total of 72 bookstores in Beijing have settled in the platform."

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Despite coronavirus-driven lockdown measures across Europe, Belgian bookstores "can remain open because they sell newspapers and some are doing so as a public service," Euronews reported.

At Filigranes bookstore in Brussels, only one person at a time is allowed to enter, though people can also order books in advance to pick up at the entrance. Owner Marc Filipson said, "If we have to close, we close. The way we do now... I don't know if I respect the rules but I think I respect the rules. But I think that people must read. But if my staff ask me to close tonight, I close tonight. But I will stay.... Now we have to do the best. To be together and for sure, the bookstores, if the crisis is for one month, two months, three months, people will always read books so we are very lucky but everybody won't have the same chance as us."

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" 'Read!' president Emmanuel Macron exhorted his compatriots when he announced France's coronavirus lockdown on March 16. Perhaps only the French could make a literary event of a pandemic," the Irish Times noted in a "Paris Letter" this week.  


Sherman's Books Closing Camden Location Permanently

Sherman's Books & Stationery has closed all six of its locations throughout Maine this week due to the coronavirus pandemic, but while the store plans to reopen many of them later in the year, the Camden location will be closed permanently.

Jeff Curtis, owner of Sherman's Books & Stationery, told the Penobscot Bay Pilot he realized it simply wouldn't be feasible to pay the accumulated expenses for the duration of the Camden closure, which is estimated to be at least three months. The Camden booksellers considered curbside pickup as an alternative, but based on how that's gone at other Sherman's stores, it would not be enough.

He added that although the Camden store was doing well, it was the store's least profitable location, and while Sherman's does not own the Camden storefront, working with the landlord was not the problem. He explained that given how difficult a three-month closure would be for even the most successful Sherman's locations, the store was not in a position to have the more profitable locations subsidize the less profitable.


Amicus, Bookstaves and Riverstream to Merge

Effective May 1, Amicus Publishing will merge with its two sister companies Bookstaves and Riverstream Publishing, with Amicus acting as the central publisher. All imprints will continue to publish children's nonfiction, while Riverstream's and Bookstaves' titles will be available for purchase directly from Amicus.

"We're excited to be merging with such well-known names in the K-12 publishing industry," said Stephanie Reierson, who is moving from president of Bookstaves to president of Amicus. The editorial and marketing staff, meanwhile, will "merge strengths" moving forward. "We're combining teams that have amazingly complementary strengths."

Founded in 2010, Amicus has more than 650 titles in its library catalogue and also publishes board books and picture books for the retail market. RiverStream, founded in 2011, sells K-12 literacy titles to the classroom market, with more than 750 paperback titles across eight imprints. And Bookstaves, established in 2015, is best known for its imprint 12-Story Library.


Obituary Note: Richard Reeves

Richard Reeves, the columnist and author whose books explored subjects as varied as the American presidency, the role of the media in American politics and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, died on Wednesday at the age of 83, The New York Times reported.

Throughout his career Reeves wrote more than a dozen books. His most recent, published in 2015, was Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II, in which he blames two Army officers stationed on the West Coast of greatly exaggerating the dangers posed by Japanese Americans and singles out Earl Warren, who would go on to be the chief justice of the United States, as another responsible party.

He lectured at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, and from 1979 until 2014 he wrote a syndicated column that appeared in more than 100 newspapers. He also wrote books on John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and was often unsparing in his portraits of presidents, whether they were the subject of a book or a newspaper column.

Reeves had a short-lived career as an engineer prior to entering the world of journalism. He helped found and edit the Phillipsburg Free Press before working as a reporter for the Newark Evening News, the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times, where his career eventually took off.

From there, he wrote for Esquire and New York magazine, was a frequent commentator on PBS public affairs programs and was chief correspondent for Frontline from 1981 to 1984. Over the years he won many awards for his work, among them an Emmy for the ABC documentary "Lights, Camera...Politics!"


Notes

Coronavirus-fighting Ideas: Writing Classes, Superheroes, Snail Mail Surprise

Scout at Old Town Books

Earlier this week, Ally Kirkpatrick of Old Town Books, Alexandria, Va., tweeted: "Friends we are kicking off our SAVE THE BOOKSHOP writing class series online. And we are starting with an instructor who has totally shaped my reading/writing life... Susan Choi (!!!)."

In just a bit more than a day, Old Town had "confirmed nearly a dozen awesome online writing classes over the next two months. They're all a fundraising effort to keep the bookstore open. Please share! I can't wait to take this erasure poetry and flash fiction class with Jenny Offill!"

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"For your enlightenment, edification, and perhaps even entertainment, an instructional video about our Sidewalk Pickup option" from Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis.

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J.C. Glindmyer, owner of Earthworld Comics, Albany, N.Y., was delivering new comics to his customers curbside, superhero-style, in a mask and cape, WTEN reported. "I hate [to] lose one week out of 37 years," he said. "Right now we need escapism more than ever, and if we can make people happy for just a little while before they go home and stay, we're happy to do it."

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"What's more comforting than cookies while you read?" Book + Bottle, St. Petersburg, Fla., asked. "In a bad-ass partnership between @book_and_bottle and @curiouscatbakery we're adding on the most DELICIOUS salted chocolate chip vegan cookies ($15 for a pack of 6) for a limited time...."

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Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga., introduced the Avid Snail Mail Surprise: "You tell us how many people* we're mailing books to. Tell us: their ages; a few things you know about their likes, dislikes, eccentricities, and obsessions; how old they are; and their mailing address(es). Our expert booksellers will pick out 1 book per person. This service costs only $20 per person. Know a family of 4 that could use some bookish mail? Our expert staff will choose a specific book for each person in the household and mail it. We can either include a note saying it's from you ("This is a gift from Joe Schmo!") or keep it anonymous ("An Avid reader thought this might cheer you up."). *You can absolutely buy a surprise book for yourself."


Bookstore Window: Munro's Books

Canadian bookseller Munro's Books, Victoria, B.C., posted on Facebook: "We have reached the ultimate age of window shopping. A few other bookstores gave us this idea, which allows passing customers to browse titles in our windows from a safe distance. If digital windows are more your speed, you can find these titles (and many more) on our website.... Stay tuned for our kids' window (plus a few other surprises)!"


Personnel Changes at Simon & Schuster

At Simon & Schuster's indie team:

Melissa Hurt is being promoted to telemarketing account manager, covering the SIBA region and calling on key accounts. She joined the Indie Team last year from HarperCollins, and before that worked at Hachette Book Group and The Book Exchange in Missoula, Mont.

Tricia Orlando is joining the team as telesales account manager, calling on accounts in the NEIBA, NAIBA and SIBA regions. She has been at Norton for six years in the trade sales department working with the independent team, special markets, national accounts and library sales.



Media and Movies

HBO Postpones The Undoing Premiere

HBO has postponed the premiere of The Undoing, a six-part limited series adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz's novel You Should Have Known. The Wrap reported that the project, which was originally supposed to premiere in May, will be delayed until this fall due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Directed by Susanne Bier (The Night Manager, Bird Box), The Undoing stars Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Edgar Ramirez, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Matilda De Angelis, Lily Rabe, Noma Dumezweni, Noah Jupe, Sofie Gråbøl and Donald Sutherland. David E. Kelley serves as executive producer and showrunner. Kidman and Per Saari also executive produce through Blossom Films, Bruna Papandrea through Made Up Stories, Stephen Garrett and Celia Costas.


Books & Authors

Awards: YA Book Prize Shortlist

A shortlist has been released for the YA Book Prize, which is organized by the Bookseller in partnership with Hay Festival and honors a YA title written by an author living in the U.K. or Ireland. Finalists are selected by a team at the Bookseller and the winner is selected by "a panel of expert and teenage judges, who are asked to pick the book they believe is the best-written and that they would be most likely to share with young adults." With the recent cancellation of this year's Hay Festval, details of plans for the YA Book Prize-winner's announcement will be revealed later. The shortlisted titles are

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
Crossfire by Malorie Blackman
Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
The Places I've Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
Meat Market by Juno Dawson
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James
Furious Thing by Jenny Downham
The Gifted, the Talented and Me by William Sutcliffe


Reading with... Stephanie Wrobel

photo: Simon Way

Stephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago but has been living in the U.K. for the last four years with her husband and her dog, Moose Barkwinkle. She has an MFA from Emerson College and her short short fiction has been published in Bellevue Literary Review. Before turning to fiction, she worked as a creative copywriter at various advertising agencies. Her debut novel, Darling Rose Gold, was just published by Berkley.

On your nightstand now:

On my nightstand is Set Me on Fire: A Poem for Every Feeling by Ella Risbridger. I pick it up every few weeks, whenever the mood strikes. I love the playful way the anthology is organized and how accessible the poems are. There's one called "Monica" by Hera Lindsay Bird that's about, among other things, how horrible Monica from Friends is. My friends from home always called me the Monica of our group, so you would think I'd find this poem insulting but I love it so much.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved the Nancy Drew series because I've always adored a mystery, the Thoroughbred series while going through a serious horse phase, and the Babysitters Club--I idolized all the babysitters.

Your top five authors:

Shirley Jackson's storytelling is creepy, whimsical, and thought-provoking--all that I want in a book. I've read everything Cheryl Strayed has ever written, down to the "Dear Sugar" essays. She feels like my wise aunt, and I always feel better after reading her work. Fredrik Backman brings characters to life with such truth and vividness it takes my breath away. I have a ball whenever I read Taylor Jenkins Reid; I could spend the rest of my days absorbing her thoughts on art, ambition, independence, power and what it meant to be a woman at different times in history. Tana French writes so beautifully and dives so deeply into her characters that the mysteries are just a bonus.

Book you've faked reading:

I haven't read most of the books I'm supposed to have read. I battled my way through The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina out of a sense of writerly obligation.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It's a love letter to humanity hidden inside a dystopian novel. It's become fashionable to bag on our phones and social media (I do it too!) but Mandel reminds us how insanely wonderful our society is, in spite of its flaws. From a craft perspective, I still study the structure and timelines of this book.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. I almost never buy a book for its cover but this one is so lush and gorgeous that I couldn't help myself. I'm dying to get lost in the world inside.

Book you hid from your parents:

As a lifelong goody two-shoes, I can't think of anything I read that would have upset my parents. I remember reading a couple of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books as a kid and quickly wading back to the safer shores of Nancy Drew.

Book that changed your life:

Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking made me view my disposition as a strength instead of a liability.

Favorite line from a book:

This line isn't from a book but an essay by the composer Nico Muhly in the London Review of Books: "The primary task, I feel, is to create a piece of art that is better than the same amount of silence." I keep this quote on my desktop.

Five books you'll never part with:

I don't typically reread books--there are so many I haven't read a first time!--but I refer back to them for craft questions all the time while writing. Tenth of December by George Saunders and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson are two of the best studies on voice that have ever been written. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver has the most arresting narrator. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a flawless psychological thriller. And while I love On Writing and Bird by Bird as much as every other writer, I think Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy is one of the best books about the topic of writing. I revisit his essays over and over again.

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

The Harry Potter books, but only if I could read them at the same ages I originally read them. When a new one came out, I'd sit in my bed, begin reading, and stop only for food and bathroom breaks. That's still the best feeling in the world: ignoring the rest of your life for a little while because you can't pull yourself away from a book.


Book Review

Review: Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose

Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose by Kay Ryan (Grove Press, $25 hardcover, 208p., 9780802148186, April 14, 2020)

"It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there." Whether or not you agree with that ominous pronouncement from William Carlos Williams, you will come away from former U.S. Poet Laureate and MacArthur Fellow Kay Ryan's refreshing Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose--her first collection of nonfiction--with a deeper appreciation of poetry's worth.

The 32 pieces in this volume balance criticism (more appropriately, appreciation--save for a mild poke at Walt Whitman) of some of Ryan's favorite poets and other literary essays with a few helpings of memoir. Most of her subjects, including Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost, will be well-known to even casual students of poetry. But Ryan devotes two affectionate, if candid, essays to the British poet Stevie Smith, someone who "does everything possible to cartoonify herself and her work," yet whose poems "can't in the long run be separated from the True, the Beautiful, the Timeless, the deeply moving."

In a useful introduction, the poet Christian Wiman praises Ryan's "amiable porcupine pose," a characteristic that's one of the most enjoyable features of the collection. For anyone who's ever attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference, Ryan's gimlet-eyed account of the 2005 event in Vancouver will be a revelation. In its first sentence, she defines herself as "a person who does not go to writers' conferences," and in the balance of the essay she makes clear why, training her sharp wit on a series of panels on subjects like "The Contemporary Sestina," a form, she notes, "which had its heyday in the Middle Ages."

Ever the iconoclast, Ryan derides the common advice to poets (or writers in general for that matter) to keep a notebook. To her, they are "the devil's bible. They are the books of understanding later." But despite her admonition about the "importance to the poet of avoiding or ignoring Kodak moments," Ryan writes with great feeling about the day she became a poet, "a mystery before which one must simply bow down." In her case, it occurred in the Colorado Rockies, on a cross-country bicycle trip she took in 1976, at age 30. "My brain was like a stunt kite," she writes, and then she tried out the question whether she should be writer and heard, "Do you like it?" To that ghostly question, she responded, "I had never heard anything so right. Yes; I did like it, that was all there was to it. I laughed and laughed and laughed." The rest, as one might say, is history. Or poetry. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: An eminent American poet turns to prose to illuminate her craft and her life.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Refuge & Prospect Go Viral

We are on PAUSE (Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone) here in New York State, which is under relentless assault from the novel coronavirus. All "non-essential" employees must stay away from workplaces, and new rules of social conduct have been implemented. As a person of a certain age, I'm deemed particularly vulnerable, and thus self-isolating. I am lucky, however, in that my job entails paying close attention via computer to what is happening in the book world.

Much of this has been deeply distressing, but I've also found so many shining examples of innovation, courage and compassion that hope remains intact. The bricks-and-mortar bookstore as refuge and sanctuary has been suspended for the moment, though there are hundreds of variations on the theme of indie booksellers improvising to sustain connections with their communities. We've been showcasing them daily in Shelf Awareness.

There is no business as usual anymore. "Every day at this time I get an e-mail from the folks closing up at both businesses," Little Joe's Books, Katonah, N.Y., posted on Facebook Wednesday. "I miss this e-mail more than you can imagine as there is often something personal or a little story about the day's events. Today here's my end of day report: A morning customer checked in to ask about our staff and to tell them he's thinking about them. The staff hopes his wife who is pregnant is doing well--but they also hope she knows he takes three sugars in his latte.

"Another customer is on her next to last bag of cinnamon tea and hopes we can help her out soon. Her son urged her to use the word penultimate in the request, so we assume his homeschooling is going just fine. Another customer is nearly out of jellybeans and needs a desperate shipment. We spent the day torn between wanting to fill orders and get goods to our people--and listening to Cuomo's orders to just STAY HOME. And just so it's clear--we love hearing about you missing us and needing your goodies. Because it's sooo normal. And I pass the stories along to the staff every day to keep them cheerful too. Anyway, we hope you are listening too and staying home so we can come back sooner."

I'm thinking about one of my ancestors. He lived in a cave. It was a long time ago, though he had fire by then. One of his morning rituals was to stoke the embers and get a flame going before the family woke up. The fire was probably near the cave's entrance, to let smoke out and keep creatures that weren't part of the family at bay. As my ancestor squatted near the blaze, he would survey the distant terrain--maybe open land, maybe high grass, maybe trees, maybe undergrowth--that might camouflage life-threatening hazards... and food.

A good provider, he made daily calculations: the family's survival depended upon how far he was willing to venture out on the open savannah, or into the forest, to hunt and gather. Stay in the cave too long and his family died of hunger. Go too far away from it and he became prey. That he survived long enough to keep threads of my DNA going is a testament to his ability to strike a balance between the two.

With the microscopic predator Covid-19 on a worldwide hunt for us now, we all wake each morning and squat near our own cave entrances, calculating how much we're willing to risk to get through another day safely.

Refuge and prospect.

In his book The Experience of Landscape, Jay Appleton explores the Prospect-Refuge theory through the lens of our oldest instincts for survival, as applied to our aesthetic experience of landscape. He describes an edge-of-the-wood phenomenon in which a woodland is "usually depicted with an unenclosed, penetrable edge and often a path, or paths, leading invitingly into the trees. The effect is enhanced by accentuating the details of the symbolism in either half; the prospect is distinguished by clarity, distance and sometimes falling ground, the refuge by an impression of the darkness, depth and capaciousness of the woodland in which the observer can at his own choosing, be swallowed up."

A bookshop traditionally provides the temporary refuge of a quiet and cozy space, while simultaneously offering limitless prospect within the pages of books on its shelves. Now the terrain has shifted dramatically. Indie booksellers, however, have always ventured a little farther from the cave in search of ways to survive... and to evolve. They will continue to sustain, and be sustained by, their extended families.

"Hi everyone. Clare here saying hello. ;) Damn I miss you people," Clare Brooks, owner of Little Village Toy & Book Shop, Littleton, N.H., posted on Facebook earlier this week: "Truth is I am a hermit when not in the shop. Hanging in the woods with my little clan. Feeling grateful. The shop is my social outlet and I am grateful for every minute of it. Your smiles and greetings when you walk in the door... damn I loved those. The fact is... this sucks... really bad. BUT we are all in this together man and I will be damned if our community doesn't come out swinging after this.... Now let's keep that village mindset and get up tomorrow and do it again and be grateful."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

KidsBuzz: G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR: Middle School's a Drag, You Better Werk! by Greg Howard
KidsBuzz: Page Street Kids: The Ninja Club Sleepover by Laura Gehl, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley
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