Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, April 14, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Polostan: Volume One of Bomb Light by Neal Stephenson

Shadow Mountain: The Legend of the Last Library by Frank L Cole

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Elements of Marie Curie: How the Glow of Radium Lit a Path for Women in Science by Dava Sobel

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Millicent Quibb School of Etiquette for Young Ladies of Mad Science by Kate McKinnon

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

Minotaur Books: Betrayal at Blackthorn Park: A Mystery (Evelyne Redfern #2) by Julia Kelly

Quotation of the Day

Ann Patchett: 'We Are a Needed Community'

" the absence of customers coming to browse, the backroom folks have moved to the capacious store front, setting up folding tables far away from each other to make our private spaces. We crank up the music. We pull books off the shelves. The floor is a sea of cardboard boxes--orders completed, orders still waiting on one more book. We make no attempt to straighten anything up before leaving at night. We have neither the impetus nor the energy. There are bigger fish to fry. Orders are coming in as fast as we can fill them.

"I think of how I used to talk in the pre-pandemic world, going on about the importance of reading and shopping local and supporting independent bookstores. These days I realize the extent to which it's true--I understand now that we're a part of our community as never before, and that our community is the world. When a friend of mine, stuck in his tiny New York apartment, told me he dreamed of being able to read the new Louise Erdrich book, I made that dream come true. I can solve nothing, I can save no one, but dammit, I can mail Patrick a copy of The Night Watchman.

"At least for now. We're part of a supply chain that relies on publishers to publish the books and distributors to ship the books and the Postal Service to pick up the boxes and take them away. We rely on our noble booksellers filling the boxes to stay healthy and stay away from each other. So far this fragile ecosystem is holding, though I understand that in the distance between my writing this piece and your reading it, it could fall apart. Today is what we've got, this quiet day in which finally there is time to read again. So call your local bookstore and see if they're still shipping. It turns out the community of readers and books is the community we needed in the good old days, and it's the community we need in hard times, and it's the community we'll want to be there when this whole thing is over."

--Ann Patchett, co-owner of Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., in a column in the Guardian.

Running Press Kids: Your Magical Life: A Young Witch's Guide to Becoming Happy, Confident, and Powerful by Amanda Lovelace


IBD's New Date; Liberation Library;'s Socks & Booksellers; Relief Funds

Independent Bookstore Day, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, April 25, and postponed until "late summer or early fall," has a new date: Saturday, August 29. More information to come.


Several independent bookstores in Chicago, Ill., have joined a book drive launched by Liberation Library, a nonprofit that provides books to incarcerated young people throughout Illinois. Many traditional programs and in-person family visits have been suspended indefinitely at jails and prisons, and the nonprofit hopes to double the number of books reaching young people. 

At the same time, Liberation Library is asking donors to support local, independent businesses by making donations through Pilsen Community Books, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, Women & Children First, Open Books and City Lit Books. The decision is both a form of mutual aid and a demonstration of solidarity with Amazon workers in Chicago striking for safe and sanitized working conditions.

"At Liberation Library, we believe access to books is a right, not a privilege," said Alyssa Beer, a member of the organization's steering committee. "The young people we serve are experiencing a loss in family visits and programming, which can be very isolating. It is now more important than ever for incarcerated youth to have access to other worlds of their choosing, so we are askkng our donors to help us double the number of books we send them."

--- has hired 11 booksellers who were laid off because of the pandemic to work for a month in a variety of areas at the company, including children's and YA expert-in-residence, fiction and general trade expert-in-residence, online content & proofreading and publicity outreach.

The 11 are: Rebecca Baruc, Chicago, Ill.; Kathy Burnette, South Bend, Ind.; Charlene Browne, Boston; Devon Dunn, New York City; BrocheAroe Fabian, Portland, Ore.; Katie Fee, New York City; Claire Handscombe, Washington, D.C.; Michael Kelleher, Oakland, Calif.; Barbara Lane, Marin, Calif.; Kelsey Norris, Washington, D.C.; and Cristina Rodriguez, Dallas, Tex. For more information about the booksellers, click here.

In another initiative, #SocksforBinc, the company has partnered with a group of illustrators, authors and designers to create 10 designs for pairs of socks that will be sold to book lovers, with profits going to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc). The minimum price for a pair of socks is $15, and buyers are encouraged to add donations to the basic price.'s pitch to book lovers: "Pull on your socks, put on an audiobook, and stay safe at home while supporting booksellers across the nation."


We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) has launched an Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children's Publishing that will provide financial aid to diverse authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals who have lost income because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

WNDB will give emergency grants of $500 each to diverse writers, illustrators and publishing professionals affected by the pandemic. Many diverse creatives have already lost their livelihoods, whether due to canceled school visits or layoffs and furloughs at publishers. To read submission guidelines and apply for assistance through the emergency fund, visit WNDB's website.

The first round of applications is being capped at 70 so that the selection committee has time to review each submission with care. WNDB plans to open the application process to more applicants after this round.

WNDB is also accepting donations for the emergency fund online (leave a note specifying that the donation is for the emergency fund). Or send a check payable to We Need Diverse Books to 10319 Westlake Dr., #104, Bethesda, MD 20817.


Poets & Writers has established the Poets & Writers Covid-19 Relief Fund to provide emergency assistance to writers having difficulty meeting basic needs because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The fund will provide grants of up to $1,000 to an initial group of approximately 80 writers this month. If Poets & Writers is able to secure additional funds, it will provide another round of funding.

To seed the fund, the Poets & Writers board is using $50,000 from the organization's reserves. Additional contributions have been received from Zibby Owens, author and host of the books podcast Moms Don't Have Time to Read (and a generous donor to Binc), and Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group and a Poets & Writers board member, among others. Poets & Writers is continuing to seek additional contributions.

For the moment, eligibility is limited to writers with a prior affiliation with Poets & Writers, including the more than 10,000 writers listed in the Poets & Writers Directory, those who have received a mini-grant through the Readings & Workshops program, and those who have received an award or fellowship administered by Poets & Writers. Apply on the Poets & Writers website here.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: William by Mason Coile

International Update: Indigo Rehires 545 Staff; Italian Bookshops Allowed to Reopen

Canadian bookstore chain Indigo Books & Music has rehired about 545 of its retail staff, two weeks after the government announced subsidies to help businesses pay wages amid the coronavirus crisis, Reuters reported. The company temporarily closed its stores March 17 and laid off 5,200 retail employees on a short-term basis.

The government introduced the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which will "cover up to 75% of the workers' wages for employers of all sizes who had suffered revenue declines of 30% or more due to the pandemic," Reuters noted, adding that the CEWS is designed to help employers keep and return Canadian employees to payrolls for a period between March 15 and June 6.


On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the nation's lockdown to May 3, but also announced "a modest loosening, with bookstores, stationery stores and clothing stores for children allowed to reopen starting April 14," the Washington Post reported.

Italian bookshops "will be keen to reopen after the month-long closure at a time when they were already under increasing pressure, particularly the independent stores, from online competition," Wanted in Italy noted. "In the decade between 2007 and 2017, Rome saw 223 bookshops close their doors for good, according to Confcommercio."


Blokes vs. Books is Read NZ Te Pou Muramura's latest campaign, in partnership with the New Zealand Society of Authors, to promote Kiwi men as readers. "It's a series of short, light-hearted interviews between playwright Victor Rodger and well-known New Zealand men, on how books and reading have shaped their lives."


In Wales, as the novel coronavirus lockdown "begins to bite, independent businesses are particularly feeling the impact," the South Wales Argus reported. Matt Taylor, owner of Chepstow Bookshop, explained that the store is still operating by phone and e-mail, and managing to get books out to people across the Gwent area via delivery service.

"All events are of course postponed and the shop is closed to customers," he said. "We're finding books ever more important for solace and education at this time."

He added, however, that the shutdown had resulted in a "major, unprecedented negative financial impact" for his store. "As an independent bookseller we are reliant on passing trade, local customers and visitors. We were busier than normal in the two weeks before the shutdown, but that won't compensate for the loss of sales over the coming weeks and months. We're planning to wait it out and encouraging e-mail, phone and online orders to keep us ticking on in some fashion. It is going to be an incredibly tough time for almost all local businesses."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Community Encouragement, Staying Relevant

Brad Johnson, owner of East Bay Booksellers, Oakland, Calif., provided an update to customers on the store's status, noting: "What a month it's been. When we closed our doors on Sunday, March 15th, I had a sense that everything around us would soon be doing the same. The inevitable happened much quicker than I expected, i.e., the very next day(!), but I was encouraged that our city leaders were trying to get ahead of things.

"Though I know many people are suffering in the midst of this--be it through loss of income or health care; be it anxiety or depression; be it mourning off loss; be it sickness itself--it's been heartening to see so many small acts of cooperation and kindness. Neighbors looking after neighbors. Why does it so often take a crisis to make community more tangible?

"In the days since our closure to the public, I've gotten so many e-mails and calls from customers. Many of them were 'just' words of encouragement. 'Just'... like what I'm breathing in right now is 'just' oxygen! There have also been lots of questions. I thought I might distill some of these into a sort of FAQ."


Politics and Prose Live!, a launch event for Monica Hesse's YA novel They Went Left (Little, Brown). P&P's Heidi Yoon (l.) kicked off the conversation between Hesse (c.) and Justine Kenin of NPR's All Things Considered (r.).

In a story headlined "Stores try to stay relevant while their doors are closed," the Associated Press reported that Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington D.C., "was also forced to temporarily close and is now starting to stream author talks online and offering a curbside pickup service."

"Many bookstores are known as havens for comfort and reassurance in difficult times," said co-owner Bradley Graham. "But a pandemic is not like other crises. In a medical crisis like this, the idea of bringing people together becomes an anathema."


Noting that Oklahoma "has used a relatively broad definition of essential businesses that can continue limited operations amid the Covid-19 shutdown, which has brought criticism from some," a Tulsa World editorial observed that "some businesses deemed essential have taken a hard look at their own operations, the potential dangers to their customers, employees and the public, and have decided to close voluntarily."

Although bookstores are on the list of essential retailers, Tulsa's Magic City Books and Best of Books, Edmond, have gone public with their disagreement about the classification. In a Facebook post, Magic City founder Jeff Martin called the decision a mistake. "We will remain closed. Online and shipping only. As long as it takes. Stay in. Stay safe. Read more."

"In the best of times, bookstores are delightful gathering places," Tulsa World noted. "We look forward to the day that we can again do that, and that day will come. But for now, we'll order our books from a safe distance.... When the Covid-19 crisis passes, consumers need to remember local businesses that were there for them in an emergency--taking proper precautions for their customers and staff and serving essential needs. They also need to remember those who decided the right thing to do was to wait."


In a letter to the Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, Wash.) community, owner Peter Aaron also explored the concept of "essential" in relation to bookselling. "We see it as an official designation of individuals (healthcare professionals, delivery drivers) and institutions (pharmacies, liquor stores)," he observed. "It leads me to wonder what really is essential--at least in my life. Shelter; food; connection with loved ones, friends, colleagues; connection with the natural world; the comfort and inspiration of the written word.

"Though I'd never associated the word 'essential,' I've always thought of this bookstore--as of manifold independent bookstores--as a vital part of the civil fabric of our city. A place where lovers of the book can come together in safety and community and graze among the shelves; a place offering close encounters with the creators of thought and dream and verbal music; a place to find information or advice to guide the thirsty reader to a satisfying spring.

"That is why, throughout the years, through blizzard, earthquake, riot, global economic meltdown (and we have weathered all of these), our first dedication has been to keep the store open--as a haven offering the sense of comfort and continuity our community has craved. And that's what makes the current crisis so fundamentally different from every past exigency. Just as we stay in contact with family and dear ones through phone, zoom, whatever connective technology, so we are doing what we can to be here for you--though it's all a pale substitute for free proximity.

"The messages we've received of support, encouragement, alliance, are inestimably inspiriting and my heart overflows with gratitude to you. What has always been obvious is that you are essential to us--without you there is no Elliott Bay Book Company. Your engagement with our work has always been our foremost responsibility and our highest privilege. So it's with profound appreciation that I send my best wishes, with hopes to welcome you safely once again through our front door--as soon as may be."


Idaho Public Television's Dialogue host Marcia Franklin spoke with three of the state's leading independent booksellers "about how they're trying to weather the Covid-19 lockdowns that have severely affected their businesses." Guests were Carol Price, owner of BookPeople of Moscow; Laura DeLaney, co-owner of Rediscovered Books in Boise; and Melissa Demotte, owner of the Well-Read Moose in Coeur d'Alene."

White Owl Books Launches Craft Series

White Owl Books, the imprint of Pen & Sword Books that covers lifestyle, nature and hobbies, has launched the White Owl Books Craft Series. The first two titles will appear in North America at the end of May. The U.K. publisher had had plans for the series in the works, but with so many people at home and looking for activities, it decided to launch the series now. Casemate IPM is the distributor.

White Owl Books Craft Series will initially publish eight paperback titles a year, with plans to increase that number. The craft guides start at a beginner's stage and, with a variety of activities in each book, projects become more involved and challenging, building on skills and techniques acquired by completing the earlier ones. The first two titles are Modern Rainbow Patchwork Quilts by Paula Steel and Seasonal Plant Dyes by Alica Hall. A full list can be seen here.

Jonathan Wright, publisher of White Owl, called the new line "an essential part of the jigsaw in our mission, which is to dominate the hobby publishing sector. We are confident that we've got the right content, produced here in an accessible way, and feedback so far has been awesome."

Michaela Goff, v-p of sales, marketing & client relations for Casemate, added, "I first saw the craft titles at the Fall sales conference, and I am thrilled with the quality of the content and breadth of crafting subject areas. I look forward to the Casemate team using our established expertise in hobby books to bring this new series to a North American audience."


A Little Celebrity Love for Chaucer's Books in Calif.

Chaucer's Bookstore, Santa Barbara, Calif., shared a little love it received from loyal customers actress/producer Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her writer/director/producer husband, Brad Hall, who wrote: 

"It's easier to buy books than to read them. We look at all the unread volumes on our shelves: the thrilling thrillers, the thick biographies, the sentimental 19th century novels, the Mann Booker short-listers! Look them all! We ask ourselves if were we fools to purchase so blithely? We wonder when on earth will we have a chance to read all of these?

"And then comes the Corona. Gee whiz. We are blessed to be isolating here in Santa Barbara with the mountain paths calling, the beaches beckoning. We are grateful to our local health professionals and essential workers--and look who turns out to be really essential. Seeing the true worth of the labors of these wonderful people, perhaps we can now and forever pay them accordingly?

"And while counting our Santa Barbara blessings, we get back to those books on our shelves, bought on impulse, or for the jacket cover, or because Pico Iyer was going to interview the author at UCSB. What do they all have in common? Chaucer's! We bought nearly all of them at Chaucer's. That Chaucer's is essential is one thing upon which every Santa Barbarian can agree. Don't we all look forward to once again sitting on the floor over at the 'S' shelf of the fiction section re-reading a piece of an Elizabeth Strout book as a fellow customer reaches over us saying, 'Excuse me, just need to grab that Steinbeck...?' That day will come soon enough, and until then, we have those shelves.... Stay safe and cozy."

Coronavirus-fighting Ideas: #DailyBookAndIndie, Curated Zoom Backgrounds

"Hey. I'm thinking of trying something for a bit--recommending a book I love, and highlighting an indie bookstore, each week," author Celeste Ng tweeted last Saturday. "(Obviously you could get the book anywhere but it's nice to shout out indies who will ship to you!) Would that be interesting to people?"

In an update, she noted: "Okay, it seems like the overwhelming response is YES, so--let's do this thing! Every day I'll highlight a book I love (old or new) and an indie bookstore you should know. Order from them or your indie of choice! #DailyBookAndIndie."


Curated Zoom backgrounds. In normal times, the Brattle Book Shop, Boston, Mass., "offers to curate bookshelves as personal or professional backdrops," Curbed noted. Now the bookseller is pitching the service to those legions of people hastily working from home due to the novel coronavirus pandemic: 

"We see your book shelves in the backgrounds of Zoom meetings and TV appearances," Brattle tweeted. "Let us help you curate your background. Books in all subjects. Please e-mail us at for more details."


The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, N.Y., is offering thanks to first responders, doctors, nurses and others "who are taking care of us during a really difficult time. We are collecting notes like this one outside the store each day. We'll be delivering your notes to a community member for staff at Phelps Hospital. If you are taking a walk please drop off your own note or use the materials provided. Please practice social distancing. xoxo."


Firestorm Books & Coffee, Asheville, N.C., posted: "While we miss seeing you all face-to-face in the store, we have been working to bring more signature flair to our web orders! From now on, you can expect your books to arrive in an elegant and absolutely Instagramworthy hand-stamped package with a bookmark and a zine.


The Children's Book Shop, Brookline, Mass., is promoting the online purchase of gift certificates by customers, noting that "gift certificates provide us with short-term cash flow to help pay our bills, and you can redeem them when we're able to reopen--something for us all to look forward to!"

The store has a Google form for customers to fill out, after which it sends an e-mail invoice via Square. Then, "we will happily mail you or your recipient the gift certificate as soon as payment is received."


The Mysterious Bookshop, New York, N.Y., has launched a new project "where some of our favorite mystery writers recommend some of their favorite mystery novels, and the choices have been top notch so far! This week, we featured picks from Nelson DeMille and Thomas Perry, and coming weeks will include Lee Child, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lawrence Block, among others."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Trevor Noah on CBS This Morning

CBS This Morning: Trevor Noah, author of It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers) (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 9780525582168).

Movies: How to Build a Girl

A trailer has been released for How to Build a Girl, loosely based on Caitlin Moran's semi-autobiographical novel. IndieWire called director Coky Giedroyc's movie "an amusing enough entry into the canon of coming-of-age teen comedies, but one made even better with another winning performance by star Beanie Feldstein. The Booksmart and Lady Bird charmer has already left her mark on the genre, and Giedroyc's feature only allows her to continue that tradition."

Moran adapted her novel along with screenwriter John Niven. The cast includes Emma Thompson, Jameela Jamil, Lucy Punch, Chris O'Dowd and Alfie Allen. IFC Films will release the film on VOD May 8.

Books & Authors

Awards: Arabic Fiction Winner; Glass Bell Longlist; BIO Winner

The Spartan Court by Abdelouahab Aissaoui has won the $50,000 13th International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The chair of judges said that the book, which tells the story of the French campaign against Algiers in 1830 from the perspectives of five Algerian and French characters, "stands out for its stylistic brilliance. It is polyphonic--with multiple voices telling the story. Readers gain a multi-layered insight into the historical occupation of Algeria and, from this, the conflicts of the entire Mediterranean region, with characters embodying different interests and intersecting visions. The novel invites the reader to gain a greater understanding of life under occupation and the different forms of resistance that grow against it. With its deep, historical narrative structure, the novel does not live in the past, but rather it challenges the reader to question present reality."

Aissaoui is the first Algerian to win the prize, part of which includes funding to translate The Spartan Court into English.


Goldsboro Books has unveiled the 12 titles longlisted for the 2020 Glass Bell Award, which celebrates "a compelling novel with brilliant characterization and a distinct voice that is confidently written and assuredly realized." A shortlist of six will be announced on May 11, with the winner, who receives £2,000 (about $2,580) and a handmade, engraved glass bell, named July 2. This year's longlisted titles are:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Second Sleep by Robert Harris
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
The Lost Ones by Anita Frank
Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff


Dame Hermione Lee, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at the University of Oxford, is the winner of the BIO Award, given annually by the Biographers International Organization to a colleague who has made "a major contribution to the advancement of the art and craft of biography."

Lee is best known for Virginia Woolf (1996), widely considered the definitive biography of that author and winner of the British Academy's Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. Lee has written biographies of Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen and Penelope Fitzgerald as well as a critical study of Philip Roth.

Lee has also written about what she calls "life-writing," particularly in Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography (2005) and Biography: A Very Short Introduction (2009). She is a reviewer and judge of biographies, and her reviews have appeared regularly in the Guardian and the New York Review of Books, among other publications.

BIO cited Lee, too, for working "hard to raise the academic perception of biography," in part by founding the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. "Through its sponsorship of talks, lectures, performances, panel discussions, conferences, seminars, and workshops, the Centre has helped raise public awareness about various forms of life-writing. It also fosters biographical research through postdoctoral research fellowships, postgraduate scholarships, visiting scholarships, and visiting doctoral studentships."

Book Review

Review: Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery

Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery by Wendy Lesser (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 hardcover, 288p., 9780374216979, May 5, 2020)

Since the early 1980s, critic Wendy Lesser (The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters) has been an avid consumer of the growing body of mystery and thriller novels set in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery is both an enthusiastic appreciation of the genre and a pleasurable work of travel writing, in which Lesser compares her lived experience in the Scandinavian countries with the fictional world she calls "my imaginary Scandinavia."

Lesser's entry point into Scandinavian crime fiction was the Martin Beck series by Swedes Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, written between 1965 and 1975. That series was nothing less than a "ten-volume police procedural that would mirror the whole society," from a "distinctly Marxist perspective," and stimulated Lesser's interest in these works as sociocultural documents.

In a series of sections that literally take the reader from A ("Alcohol") to Z ("Zealous journalists"), Lesser explains how dozens of authors, including the late Swede Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Norwegian Jo Nesbø (author of the Harry Hole series), along with many lesser-known writers, have created a fully realized picture of Scandinavian society through their mystery offerings. What matters to her, she writes, is "how persuasively these mystery writers manage to create a world that one can imaginatively inhabit--for the duration of a first reading, initially, but also long after."

In the second half of Scandinavian Noir, Lesser shifts from literary critic to tourist, signaled by a shift in narrative voice from first person to third. From her base in Stockholm in the summer of 2018, she traverses Scandinavia, experiencing first hand life in countries that have become real for her on the page. Though she finds Copenhagen "definitely a bit grungy" compared to Stockholm and Oslo, Lesser's portrait of these countries generally is positive.

Unsurprisingly, real life--illustrated, for example, in Sweden's challenges in dealing with mass immigration from 2014 to 2017--turns out to be more complex than the stylized fictional version. Among Lesser's more interesting moments are encounters with actual police officers in the capital cities of each of these countries, where she contrasts their unassuming work with the necessarily more dramatic efforts of their fictional counterparts.

Lesser concludes the volume with a useful appendix, in which she shares her favorite Scandinavian mysteries, along with helpful commentary. Whether readers are transfixed by the spectacular exploits of Lisbeth Salander, or impressed with the doggedness of Kurt Wallander, or even if they've never encountered these characters, they'll find in Scandinavian Noir an entertaining journey into the world of these mysteries and the cultural milieu that spawned them. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: A prominent critic shares her passion for Scandinavian crime fiction and the societies it illuminates.

Powered by: Xtenit