Shelf Awareness for Friday, May 1, 2020


Harper Perennial: Barely Functional Adult: It'll All Make Sense Eventually by Meichi Ng

Berkley Books: In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce

Candlewick Press (MA): Stink and the Hairy, Scary Spider by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Scholastic Press:  The Captive Kingdom (the Ascendance Series, Book 4) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Big Picture Press: Maps: Deluxe Edition by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinska

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Disney-Hyperion: The Mirror Broken Wish (Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao

News

How Bookstores Are Coping: To Reopen or Not to Reopen

Five Salt Lake City booksellers--Betsy Burton and Anne Holman of the King's English Bookshop, Ken Sanders of Ken Sanders Rare Books and Catherine and Tony Weller of Weller Book Works--have collaboratively written a manifesto that was sent to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, as well as Mayors Erin Mendenhall and Jenny Wilson, expressing the reasons they feel strongly that it is not yet time to open their doors due to safety concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter reads, in part: "For the safety of our customers, our booksellers, and our community we oppose tomorrow's premature lifting of restrictions that have helped slow the onslaught of the coronavirus in Utah.... Along with the victims of Covid-19, we, our colleagues in books, in retail, in restaurants and in services, are fighting for not only our lives but our economic survival--and that of our staff. Our businesses are suffering, our sales are disappearing, and our very futures are at stake.

"We, proud members of the culture and community of Salt Lake City, are terrified for our own futures and yours.... Much as we would love to throw open our doors to the public for business as usual on May 1st, we believe we would risk our lives along with those of our employees and customers by doing so.

"For small businesses such as ours, the infection with coronavirus of a single customer whose safety we could not guarantee, however effectively we mask and sanitize, is unthinkable. To suppose we can totally reopen our economy while COVID-19 cases are rampant in our state is magical thinking at best--and an idea we suspect our mayors view with misgivings.

"As responsible employers we resist the idea of putting our booksellers (or our customers) at risk, however much we long for the return to a normal world. Therefore we... beseech you to allow local businesses to do businesses in safe and thoughtful ways rather than throwing our doors open to the public before it is safe to do so."

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Despite Texas Governor Greg Abbott's new order that permitted reopening on May 1, with stores not to exceed 25% capacity, most Dallas area booksellers "plan to continue what they've been doing. That means a continuation of online orders and curbside pickups," the Morning News reported.

One exception is Interabang Books, which will launch a partial reopening May 1, with three booksellers in the store and more employees in the back. General manager and partner Kyle Hall said the goal is to provide customer service "at our usual level," with plans "to admit no more than 10 people or more than five customer groups at a time. Five pairs of people shopping together would be the limit, for example, and so would four singles, plus a mom with two kids... and, of course, we'll be enforcing safe social distances."

Will Evans, owner of Deep Vellum Books, said, "We definitely won't open in any sort of regular way. We'll keep doing what we've been doing, which is curbside pickup and delivery by appointment."

The Wild Detectives will follow a similar plan for the time being. Co-owner Javier García del Moral said, "Our space is particularly challenging in relation to the safety practices and recommendations--social distancing, touching objects, etc. We don't think opening is a very safe option for now. We'll wait a few weeks and see how the pandemic evolves during this new phase. That will give us some guidelines and thoughts before we make our next step. In the meantime, we'll keep our newly launched travel agency and our membership program to get through this period."

Kathy Doyle Thomas, CSO of Half Price Books, said the chain, which has 125 stores around the country and 19 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, will reopen 11 stores in North Texas starting May 2. "We had to get our safety policies in line," Thomas said. "And make sure our employees are comfortable with reopening. We had to make sure there were enough supplies and sanitary equipment, including enough masks and gloves for employees.... We also installed sneeze guards around the checkout counter. And we put distancing tape on the floor. There are procedures people have to adhere to that we have to be conscious of and implement."

A spokesperson for Barnes & Noble said stores in the Dallas area will not reopen on May 1, although curbside pickup will still be available.

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In Houston, Tex., Blue Willow Bookshop posted on Facebook: "After a lot of thought and discussion following the governor's announcement this week, we have decided that we will continue with only curbside pickup, in addition to our shipping offerings, next week. We're working hard to get the shop in order (she doesn't have her makeup on, y'all), as well as a plan to allow customers inside that prioritizes everyone's health & safety. Stay tuned for updates, and as always, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued support."

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In response to the release of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee's Executive Order 30 on Wednesday, Southland Books & Café in Maryville "decided to continue operating the bookstore as we have done for the past 30+ days of quarantine. You may visit the bookstore by appointment only. Our dining rooms will remain closed until further notice. We continue to offer daily Family Dinners, to go options from a condensed menu, and catering from the cafe. Beer and wine are also available from The Bird & The Book.... Thank you to everyone for your support during this time."

Earlier this week, Southland had said that it would be keeping its dining rooms closed for the time being: "This decision has been made after serious talks with our staff and several of you, our customers. We believe in science and trust that they know more than we or politicians. We want to place the safety of our staff and you over profits. We hope that you understand and will continue to trust us to prepare your lunches, dinners, and caterings. We look forward and hope to serve you soon."

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"As the owner, I'm so ready to open our store when it is safe to do so," Stephanie Gordon of Story on the Square, McDonough, Ga., told her customers. "When I'm out and see people shopping without masks, my blood boils as I feel these people are potentially prolonging this crisis. Today, I'm turning my anger into a more positive energy. I bought loads of these mask cookies at Queen Bee Coffee Company. I'm going to hand them out to those people I see doing the right thing. Be safe and I hope to see you at our store soon!"


University of California Press:  Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels by Tony Keddie


#SaveIndieBookstores Deadline Extended; Oblong's Preorder Campaign

The #SaveIndieBookstores campaign, which was scheduled to end last night, has been extended through Tuesday, May 5. "Together, we can save these irreplaceable, vital parts of our communities," organizers said.

The intiative began on April 2 with a $500,000 donation from James Patterson. It is supported by the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), the American Booksellers Association and Reese Witherspoon's Book Club. All monies will be given to independent bookstores in mid-May. #SaveIndieBookstores has raised $481,645 on top of Patterson's $500,000 donation.

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A few months ago, Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y., set up a preorder campaign for actress Hilarie Burton's book The Rural Diaries, which is all about her move, with her husband, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, to Rhinebeck, where they bought a farm and became members of the community.

Store co-owner Suzanna Hermans reported that with four days to go until the book's pub date, they've sold nearly 4,000 copies. In just the last two days, in fact, she and her team ordered 1,600 copies, after Burton and actress Sophia Bush posted about the campaign on Instagram.

Initially, the campaign had a cap of 1,000 copies, but Burton agreed to sign as many as Oblong can sell, for the duration of the pandemic. With the stores closed to the public, Hermans and her staff have been driving to Burton's house to pick up signed books from her porch and bringing them to Hermans's garage, where they are packed and shipped. Even with only one person working in the garage at a time, they've been able to pack and ship about 400 copies per day so far.

"She is amazing and we are so grateful, especially now, for her support," said Hermans. "I'd also like to thank Ronnie Kutys from Harper for facilitating all of this happening. She's a superstar."

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In five days, #Creators4Comics raised $433,166 for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) to support comics stores and indie bookstores hurt by Covid-19. The group's charity auction featured 635 separate auctions on Twitter and other platforms by comics creators, authors and celebrities.

"Comic shops and indie bookstores have supported so many of us," said Kami Garcia, author of the graphic novel Teen Titans: Raven, who brought the organizers together. "They aren't just places where we buy books and comics. These stores are places where we find belonging."

Among the participants were Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Patton Oswalt, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Joe Hill, Shannon Hale, Mike Mignola, Brad Meltzer, Mariko Tamaki, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Marissa Meyer, Danielle Paige, Gene Luen Yang, Tom King, Bryan Edward Hill, Jason Aaron, Marc Guggenheim, Gail Simone, Vita Ayala, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Cassandra Clare, Marieke Nijkamp, Margaret Stohl, Jock, Mico Suayan, and G. Willow Wilson. Seth Meyers, Damon Lindeloff and Robert Kirkman made generous matching donations.

Since March 13, 135 comics retailers and their households have received more than $150,950 in financial assistance for rent, food and essential medications from Binc--more than double the amount distributed last year to this sector of the book industry. In total, 722 comic book stores have now applied for aid.

Binc executive director Pamela French said, "Thank you to the leaders of Creators 4 Comics for having the vision to understand how comic retailers would be impacted by this pandemic. Their passion to help and to act quickly to engage this community has helped raise the most funds Binc has ever received in one day. You used your influence to shine a spotlight on the need comic retailers are facing."

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Europa Editions' #OurBrilliantFriends book club has raised more than $7,500 for the #SaveIndieBookstores campaign since its first meeting on April 6. The Elena Ferrante appreciation club has been meeting every Monday before each new episode of HBO's My Brilliant Friend. Registration is free, but donations are encouraged; some 2,610 people have RSVP'd for the events.

Guest speakers have included authors Lauren Groff, Mary Norris, Alexander Chee and Ian Williams, translators Sam Bett and Jennifer Croft, Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein, National Book Foundation executive director Lisa Lucas, and Center for Fiction executive director Noreen Tomassi.

"We need places we can gather," said Michael Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Europa Editions. "Public spaces where we can congregate, organize, exchange ideas, talk. It is a basic human need. Because our public squares and other spaces are closed to us right now, we created a virtual piazza, Piazza Ferrante, and people came. The idea behind #OurBrilliantFriends was to provide an online venue for readers at a time when other, physical venues weren't accessible. While we all look forward to returning to those physical spaces, what we discovered is that this particular community is so vast, so diverse, so global, that a virtual piazza is actually the ideal place for it to gather, and not only at this time."

#OurBrilliantFriends will celebrate the final episode of the HBO series next Monday, May 4, in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library, LitFilm and Girls Write Now, with donations supporting Girls Write Now. Guests will include novelist and essayist Darcey Steinke; publisher, author and activist Jamia Wilson; critic and author John Freeman; and journalist and author Elizabeth Mitchell, along with Ann Goldstein and Michael Reynolds.

Future meetings of the #OurBrilliantFriends After Dinner Book Club will focus on books, authors, and conversation that bring people together as readers, that create bridges and community, among them: Jane Gardam, author of Old Filth, and Muriel Barbery, author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.


GLOW: Erewhon: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk


International Update: Some French Bookshops to Reopen

Many French bookshops and other "non-essential" retailers will be able to reopen May 11, nearly two months after they had to close as part of the national lockdown, though "booksellers and other non-food shops in shopping centers with a wide catchment area will remain shut, and in some areas stricter rules will apply because Covid-19 cases remain too numerous," the Bookseller reported.

"All shops will have to respect strict (health safety) specifications," including those limiting the number of customers allowed inside at any one time, and organizing the traffic flows to ensure a physical distancing of at least one meter (about three feet), Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament on April 29. Face masks will be recommended for staff and customers when the distance cannot be guaranteed, and retailers will be allowed to refuse entry to people not wearing them, whatever the layout of the store.

The French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française) has prepared a four-page recommended protocol for booksellers that is now in the hands of the Ministry of Culture for consultation, according to Syndicat director Guillaume Husson. "If we don't receive an endorsement (or suggested changes) in time, we will distribute it to our members anyway," he said. "We welcome the fact that bookshops will be able to re-open. But many uncertainties remain," including which of the country's regions will continue to apply stricter rules. Despite alternative sales initiatives, French independent booksellers' turnover plunged 94% between March 17 and April 27, compared to 2019.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Little Threats by Emily Schultz


Amazon First Quarter: Sales Jump, Profits Drop

In the first quarter ended March 31, total net sales at Amazon rose 26.4%, to $75.4 billion, while net income fell 28.8%, to $2.5 billion. The gain in sales was above the usual in the normally quiet first quarter, but net income was below the company's and analysts' expectations. As a result, Amazon stock fell more than 5%, to about $2,450 a share, after the news yesterday.

"The results reflect the central role Amazon has played during the coronavirus crisis, delivering goods to people stranded at home by government shelter-in-place orders," the Wall Street Journal wrote. "The surge in online buying taxed Amazon's fulfillment centers, which saw unprecedented volumes for this part of the year. In response, Amazon temporarily stopped taking inventory for products deemed nonessential and hired 175,000 more staffers for its warehouses and delivery network. Amazon said it ended the quarter with 840,000 employees."

Saying that "the current crisis is demonstrating the adaptability and durability of Amazon's business as never before, but it's also the hardest time we've ever faced," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos indicated that the $4 billion in expected net profit in the second quarter--and perhaps more--will be spent on "Covid-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe. This includes investments in personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of our facilities, less efficient process paths that better allow for effective social distancing, higher wages for hourly teams, and hundreds of millions to develop our own Covid-19 testing capabilities."


Peachtree Publishing Company: The Candy Mafia by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Daniel Duncan


MIBA and GLIBA Create Heartland Booksellers Award

Starting this year, the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association are merging their book awards to create the Heartland Booksellers Award. The name mirrors the name of the two associations' joint fall show, the Heartland Fall Forum.

As the associations put it, "Celebrating our book awards as one industry force amplifies the impact of the award for booksellers, publishers, authors, and consumers, as 12 states and 300 bookstores throughout the Greater Midwest celebrate the same set of exemplary titles."

Winners will be announced the week of June 29 and be honored at the Heartland Fall Forum. Even if the fall show takes place online only, the awards will maintain their usual schedule, with an online celebration.


University of California Press: A People's Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area, Volume 3 by Rachel Brahinsky, Alexander Tarr, Bruce Rinehart


Shelf Awareness Delivers First Indie Pre-Order E-Blast

On Wednesday, Shelf Awareness sent the first of our monthly pre-order e-blasts to more than 100,000 of the country's best book readers. The e-blast went to 103,126 customers of 32 participating independent bookstores.

The mailing features eight upcoming titles selected by Shelf Awareness editors and a sponsored title. Customers can buy these books via "pre-order" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on each sending store's website. A key feature is that bookstore partners can easily change title selections to best reflect the tastes of their customers and can customize the mailing with links, images and promotional copy of their own.

The pre-order e-blasts are sent the last Wednesday of each month; the next will go out on Wednesday, May 27. Stores interested in learning more can visit our program registration page or contact our partner program team via e-mail.

For a sample of this week's pre-order e-blast, see this one from Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash., which the store customized.


Obituary Note: Maj Sjöwall

Maj Sjöwall, co-author with her partner, Per Wahlöö, of the 10 Martin Beck crime novels that are widely credited with founding Scandinavian noir, died on Wednesday at the age of 84, the Guardian reported.

Beginning with Roseanna, first published in Sweden in 1965, the Beck series focused on Swedish police detective Martin Beck, part of the National Homicide Bureau, and the books appeared annually until The Terrorists in 1975, immediately after the death of Wahlöö at 49. The series has been honored around the world, been the basis for many TV series and feature films (including a Hollywood production of The Laughing Policeman, which also won a best novel Edgar in 1971), and was a precursor for many later masters of Scandinavian noir, including Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson.

After meeting in 1962 while working as journalists and translators in Stockholm and "influenced by the crime novels of Georges Simenon and Ed McBain," Sjöwall and Wahlöö conceived of the series, the Guardian wrote, "with each of them writing alternate chapters (30 in each book), which when completed could be seen as a single, Marxist critique of Swedish society. They wrote in the evenings after work, sometimes throughout the night, passing drafts across the kitchen table...

"Not only were the novels painstakingly researched and unflinching in their descriptions of horrific crimes, but each chipped away at an aspect of contemporary Swedish life to reveal (as the authors saw it) a growing materialism and heartlessness. In the character of Martin Beck, their dogged, dyspeptic, chain-smoking policeman, with a gloomy marriage and a son he admits he doesn't like, Sjöwall and Wahlöö set a new template for fictional detectives, and not just Swedish ones. A DNA trace on many of today's troubled detective heroes worldwide, both on page and screen, could well turn up Swedish ancestry."

In his foreword to the 2008 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition of Roseanna, Henning Mankell wrote in part, "I think that anyone who writes about crime as a reflection of society has been inspired to some extent by what they wrote... Of particular importance was the fact that Sjöwall and Wahlöö broke with the hopelessly stereotyped character descriptions that were so prevalent. They showed people evolving right before the reader's eyes."


Notes

Image of the Day: Book Delivery by Horseback

The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, N.C., has been open for online ordering and delivery only since early April. During that time, the staff "has delivered books to some out of the way places and through some incredible creative measures," the bookseller noted. Pictured above: children's department manager Angie Tally delivers, on horseback, a book and gift certificate intended for a mother-in-law's 91st birthday gift. "Combining books and horses, two of the things that make Southern Pines such a fun place to live!"


A Seussian Virtual Graduation Celebration

Today at noon (Eastern), in honor of all of those graduates who won't be taking the stage to receive their diplomas, John Cena of WWE fame will be hosting a virtual "commencement keynote" featuring a reading from Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! as well as his own words of advice to graduates of all ages. He will broadcast live on Twitter, and it will then be available on the Dr. Seuss Facebook page, where educators, first responders, authors and artists will add to his good wishes. Families and friends of the Class of 2020 can post photos of graduates with #ohtheplaces2020, and Random House Children's Books and Dr. Seuss Enterprises will donate one book for every post, to First Book (up to 20,020 books) to donate for classroom libraries for those who educated this year's graduating class. Congratulations, Class of 2020!


Cool Idea of the Day: Book Care Packages

Newtonville Books, Newton, Mass., is partnering with the Newton Housing Authority and the Facebook group Newton Neighbors Helping Newton Neighbors to provide care packages to Newton households in need.

"In partnership with a number of local retailers who are creating these entertainment-oriented care packages, NNHNN is connecting members of the community who want to donate them to Newton residents who are the most vulnerable during this difficult time," the bookseller noted. "We see this as an opportunity for you to help those in need while also supporting beloved local businesses in the hopes that it will enable them to stay afloat while closed to physical business."

In an update on Facebook earlier this week, Newtonville Books posted: "This is only a small portion of the orders that our generous community purchased to donate to seniors in need--thank you, thank you!! We will get these in the hands of people who need them urgently. I’m going to staple the bags closed with a note that says 'We're All In This Together.' Our customers are the best!"


Personnel Changes at Putnam

At Putnam:

Sally Kim has been promoted to senior v-p, publisher, Putnam. She was formerly editor-in-chief and earlier was v-p, editorial director, Putnam. She joined Putnam nearly five years ago from Touchstone.

Christine Ball has been named senior v-p, publisher, Berkley and Dutton. She was formerly senior, v-p, publisher, of Putnam, Berkley, and Dutton. Before joining Dutton as director of publicity and marketing in 2008, she was publicity director at Crown.


Media and Movies

Movies: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Wes Ball (Maze Runner franchise) will direct a film adaptation of Claire North's novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August for Amblin Partners, Deadline reported. Melissa Iqbal (Humans, The Nevers) adapted the novel, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.



Books & Authors

Awards: The Edgars; Minnesota Book; Eric Carle Museum Honors

The winners of the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented by the Mystery Writers of America and honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2019, are:

Best Novel: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Best First Novel by an American Author: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG)
Best Paperback Original: The Hotel Neversink by Adam O'Fallon Price (Tin House Books)
Best Fact Crime: The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton (Grand Central Publishing)
Best Critical/Biographical: Hitchcock and the Censors by John Billheimer (University Press of Kentucky)
Best Short Story: "One of These Nights," from Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers by Livia Llewellyn (Akashic Books)
Best Juvenile: Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught (Paula Wiseman Books)
Best Young Adult: Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
Best Television Episode Teleplay: "Season 5, Episode 4" Line of Duty, teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
Robert L. Fish Memorial Award: "There's a Riot Goin' On," from Milwaukee Noir by Derrick Harriell (Akashic Books)
The Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award: The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman (Morrow)
G.P. Putnam's Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award: Borrowed Time by Tracy Clark (Kensington)

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The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art announced this year's recipients of the Carle Honors award for exceptional work in the field of children's art and literature. The honorees will be celebrated in the Fall of 2021 in New York City. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the 2020 Carle Honors is being re-imagined as a virtual benefit on September 24 to support the museum and its art and literacy programs. The auction will open for bidding in mid-September and two pieces will be auctioned live during the virtual event.

Artist: Raúl Colón, who "has inspired readers and illustrators alike with his exceptional artistry, unique techniques, and powerful stories of people who never give up on their dreams."
Angel: Every Child a Reader, represented by executive director Carl Lennertz, is the not-for-profit arm of the Children's Book Council that "sponsors far-reaching literacy programs."
Mentor: Patricia Aldanam, founder of Groundwood Books and "a renowned children's book publisher who has devoted her career to bringing new voices to picture books."
Bridge: Dennis M. V. David & Justin G. Schiller, founders of Battledore Ltd., "contribute pioneering scholarship in the field of children's literature and illustration, and play seminal, behind-the-scenes roles as builders of many of the field's major research collections."

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Winners of the 2020 Minnesota Book Awards are:

Novel & Short Story: Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O'Connor (Rose Metal Press)
Poetry: Bodega by Su Hwang (Milkweed Editions)
Minnesota Nonfiction: Slavery's Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State by Christopher P. Lehman (Minnesota Historical Society Press)
General Nonfiction: The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (Riverhead Books)
Genre Nonfiction: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (Riverhead Books)
Memoir & Creative Nonfiction: All the Wild Hungers by Karen Babine (Milkweed Editions)
Children's Literature: A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang (Carolrhoda Books)
Middle Grade Literature: The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Dutton Children's Books)
Young Adult Literature: Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)

Book Artist Award: Collaborative Artist Group, for My Mighty Journey: A Waterfall's Story
Hognander Minnesota History Award: William D. Green, for The Children of Lincoln: White Paternalism and the Limits of Black Opportunity in Minnesota, 1860-1876
Kay Sexton Award: James Lenfestey


Reading with... Kelly Fordon

photo: Mary Ann Ismail

Kelly Fordon is the author of the novel-in-stories Garden for the Blind, which was chosen as a Michigan Notable Book, a 2016 Foreword Reviews' Indiefab finalist, a Midwest Book Award finalist, an Eric Hoffer finalist and an IPPY Awards Bronze Medalist. Her first full-length poetry collection, Goodbye Toothless House, was published by Kattywompus Press in 2019, and a new short story collection, I Have the Answer, is out now from Wayne State University Press. Fordon lives and teaches in the Detroit area.

On your nightstand now:

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. I've heard great things about this book, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize. The plot centers on an Ohio housewife who spends a lot of time thinking about her life, her kids, her husband, her chickens and who knows what. I'm just starting the book, so I am unable to elaborate. Maybe I'll never be able to tell you. The book clocks in at 988 pages. This might prove a life-long endeavor.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was a child a neighbor down the street came up with the then-revolutionary idea of recording books with sound effects and selling them on cassette tapes. Although I loved reading actual books, my fondest memories are of falling to sleep listening to The Wizard of Oz, The Land of Oz, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer on cassette. This neighbor also recorded The Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The sound of the hurricane force winds and the daughter crying as her father lashed her to the mast has stayed with me all these years. If you've never listened to The Wreck of the Hesperus, this YouTube recording is almost as ominous as the one I remember from my youth (minus the sound effects).

Your top five authors:

Alice Munro, short stories.
Jacob M. Appel, short stories.
Haruki Murakami, novels.
Ann Napolitano, novels.
Laura Kasischke, poetry and fiction.

Book you've faked reading:

Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. I have lied about this so many times that when I started to answer this question, I wondered if perhaps I had actually read it. No, I haven't. The book is dogeared on page 21, and the spine is intact, so there you have it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen. I have given this gorgeous novel to countless people and I am waiting impatiently for her next novel. It was favorably reviewed everywhere when it came out in 2010.

"We were a family of bad citizens. Drunk drivers and tax evaders, people who parked in handicapped spaces and failed to return shopping carts to their collection stands," says the narrator, Mary Murphy, at one point. Love her.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Confessions of a Bare-faced Woman by Allison Joseph. I love both the poems and the cover.

Book you hid from your parents:

In the '70s/'80s we used to sneak The Joy of Sex down off my friend Susan's shelf and laugh hysterically at all the sketches, which were very hairy. I mean very very hairy. We couldn't believe that we were actually going to be that hirsute someday.

Book that changed your life:

Bluets by Maggie Nelson. So spare, so moving. I didn't know it was possible to cram so much depth into such a limited space, but I know now, and I also realize (because of course I tried to copy her) that you really have to be a genius to pull it off.

Favorite line from a book:

My favorite line from a book is actually the title of a poem, "Say It, Say It Anyway You Can" by Vievee Francis. It is the perfect mantra for a writer because sometimes it is darn hard to say it.

Five books you'll never part with:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Last Things by Jenny Offill

I've chosen four out of five of these books for their lyrical prose and the way they infuse ordinary life with magic. The other one, Pride and Prejudice, is both suspenseful and romantic--the perfect combination.

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

Recently I read Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. I read it so fast! I couldn't put it down, so now I would like to go back and savor it.

What we would do without university presses:

Good question. I certainly wouldn't be published! My press is Wayne State University Press. They took a chance on my first book, Garden for the Blind, which was a uniquely structured (perhaps bizarrely so) novel-in-stories, which ended up winning quite a few awards. It never would have seen the light of day if Annie Martin, editor extraordinaire, had not seen something worthwhile on the page. So many writers are not living near the publishing hubs of Los Angeles and New York and we need our university presses desperately. Sometimes, as in the case of Bonnie Jo Campbell's National Book Award finalist American Salvage, Vievee Francis's Blue-Tail Fly and Francine J. Harris's Allegiance, the editors of those small presses discover masterpieces.


Book Review

Review: Splash! 10,000 Years of Swimming

Splash!: 10,000 Years of Swimming by Howard Means (Hachette Books, $28 hardcover, 336p., 9780306845666, June 2, 2020)

Thoroughness and depth are hallmarks of Howard Means's long writing career. In Splash!, he delivers a fascinating, compulsively readable history of swimming, dating back to the dawn of humankind.

All "life began with water," Means states, launching his immersive narrative in remote Egypt where, in 1933, a Hungarian explorer discovered a small, ancient cave and multiple painted figures "floating effortlessly on the rock wall... caught midstroke doing some highly relaxed version of the old-fashioned doggy paddle." These mysterious images of swimmers, estimated to be approximately 8,000 years old, gave birth to new ideas about the Earth and its prior gravitational shifts, orbits and bodies of water. Even the Sahara, the "Great Sand Sea," is believed to have once been a flourishing aquatic place, as evidenced by the discovery of a Stone Age graveyard that held skeletal remains and archeological fossils of elephants, giraffes, warthogs, pythons and other species.

Means probes the relationship of wildlife and humans to water over centuries. He weaves in biblical passages, religious doctrine and Darwin's theory of evolution, among others. Swimming has held different meanings over time. The Greeks, while more interested in the humanities and the arts, took their swimming seriously, as a "civic virtue," while the Romans, a more practical people, treasured swimming and let it drive engineering and architecture. Julius Caesar, celebrated for his swimming feats, placed a focus on the military value of swimming. Yet, in puritanical times, swimming was forbidden--considered witchcraft.

Along the way of this meticulously documented and comprehensive history, Means cites examples of notable thinkers and their relationships to swimming--from Lord Byron to Ben Franklin--along with aquatic themes in literature penned by greats from William Shakespeare to Michael Ondaatje. He examines how water led to colonization, resettlement and even segregation; the cultural and social aspects of swimming as sport that have led to competition, the Olympics and modern-day marvels like Michael Phelps; the art and fashion implications of swimming via the evolution of bathing suits over time; and how swimming has served as a form of fun and games (Marco Polo) and meditation.

The reach of the narrative is vast, and the research, impeccable. The passion and enthusiasm of Means (67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence; Instructions for a Funeral), a life-long swimmer himself, shines on every page of this exceptional aquatic exploration. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Shelf Talker: A comprehensive, richly informative and entertaining history of swimming that probes all aspects of the activity, from the dawn of creation to modern times.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Welcome to the After-Normal

Previously on The New Normal: "Having had to rapidly shutdown their businesses as coronavirus hit, booksellers scrambled out of their physical bookshops. Many furloughed staff and closed. Others set up skeleton online operations in the back room--or from home--corralling uncertain supply chains, ad hoc online ordering and home deliveries."

Next Page Books, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: "The more committed we are now, the sooner we’ll move on to the next 'new normal,' and small businesses can reclaim their 'essential' status."

On the next episode: "Finally, prepare for re-entry. Lockdown may end in a week or three months. We may have to endure further lockdowns, so get prepared for a new normal. This is--quite frankly--unnerving, even terrifying. It will require courage and a willingness to try new things." (via the Bookseller)

If it feels like we're living in a present- rather than pre- or post-apocalyptic book/film/series, maybe it's because we kind of are, and that phrase "new normal" drives the plot. Forbes magazine seems particularly obsessed, but it crops up everywhere ("Europe Tiptoes Toward New Normal as Spain Keeps Schools Shut"; "Masks, temperature checks mark 'new normal' at restaurants").

Is right now, which seems like present abnormal, really the new normal? The phrase has certainly proven to be a useful buoy in dangerous waters:

  • "For nonprofit bookstore Dog Ears Bookstore and Café, delivering books to peoples' homes has become the new normal." (WKBW Buffalo)
  • "Rainy Day Books' new normal is faster paced and filled with late nights of organizing and readying books for shipment." (Kansas City Business Journal)
  • "There's never been a better time to give back to the community than right now," said [A Novel Idea Bookstore owner Cinnamon] Dokken. "We're all adjusting to the new normal...." (Lincoln Journal Star)
  • Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan is "trying to imagine what the stores will look like 'after the new normal kicks in. Retail is getting hurt as hard or worse than anything else.... It's a very difficult nut to crack. I'm very confident that Books & Books will survive this, but it'll be a rough, rough, rough period." (boca magazine)
  • Book and record stores "are considered 'non-essential' businesses in the context of a pandemic stay-at-home order, and that's appropriate. But these labors of love are essential to any city's soul, to its texture. They're essential to any city I want to live in when we return to whatever our new normal will be." (Daily Memphian)
White Birch Books, North Conway, N.H.: "Basically, our new normal is still normal."

Our fierce attachment to normal seems to be a necessary coping mechanism. Lately, my new normal is learning something about our industry every day I did not expect to encounter. More than ever, it seems like you can't step into the same normal book biz river twice.

In Forbes, Josie Cox observed: "Pedants might be quick to point out that it's simply a paradox. If something is new, can it really be considered totally normal? And can normal things be brand new? Perhaps more fundamentally, the phrase assumes there's such a thing as normal in the first place--a sort of blanket status quo: parameters outside of which everything is a bit strange."

That's where things get confusing. "The new normal, in other words, changes what was wrong but keeps what was right with the old normal," Brandon Ambrosino wrote for BBC. "But if the old normal was wrong, then why did we call it normal? Similarly, if the new normal is different from the old one, how can we pretend we're still dealing with 'normal?' What does 'normal' really mean, anyway?"

Is your head spinning yet? Don't worry. That's just the new normal.

Maybe we should call this era the after-normal. I stole that one from The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet by Nicole Walker and David Carlin (Rose Metal Press), an intriguing conversation in book form.

"The catastrophe has already occurred; we must remember that. The catastrophe occurred a long time ago," Carlin writes. "The catastrophe occurred this morning and it will occur this afternoon and it will go on occurring for another hundred thousand years. Give or take."

So, is that normal, new normal, after-normal? Carlin also notes that "there are a lot of people in the world working hard to make the now better. People with something small and fragile they are making to survive or help others survive: something they are trying to make, stumbling over, worrying at, in the now."

In a recent q&a, Oregon ArtsWatch asked Sylla McClellan, owner of Third Street Books in McMinnville, if she had anything special planned "for when you finally open up like normal? Or will there be a new normal?"

She replied: "Nothing planned, but I dream of Third Street being closed to traffic and people just wandering around eating, drinking, laughing. Live music is playing somewhere, shops are open late, and everyone is relaxed and happy to see each other again. That probably won't happen, but one can dream!"

Welcome to the after-normal.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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