Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Overlook Press: Bad Men by Julie Mae Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

Quotation of the Day

'Books: There's Nothing More Precious'

"This crisis is calling on the book industry to reconfigure old structures and old plans, so it has to have impact. But people need books in troubling times; there's nothing more precious. A book isn't a video game or a tablet. It's not merely a distraction, but something that nourishes readers. I don't think books are on their way out. I think we need them now more than ever."

--Paul Lisicky, author of Late: My Life at the Edge of the World (Graywolf Press), in an Esquire article "Inside the Book Industry's Battle to Stay Afloat During the Covid-19 Crisis," which quotes a range of booksellers, authors, publishers and others

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!


New Astra Publishing House Includes mineditionUS, Boyds Mills & Kane

Combining established and new publishing operations, Astra Publishing House has been formed as a subsidiary of Thinkingdom Media Group. With headquarters in Beijing, China, Thinkingdom Media Group specializes in literary fiction, nonfiction and picture books, embraces diversity and has a global vision with associated publishers in Japan, France and Germany. Founded by Chen Mingjun in 2002, Thinkingdom Media Group is the only non-state-owned publishing company to go public in China and has published more than 4,000 titles in that country. The new Astra Publishing House consists of:

Astra House, a new adult trade publisher of American and international literary fiction and poetry, and "mission-driven" nonfiction. Ben Schrank is publisher of Astra House as well as COO of Astra Publishing House; Alessandra Bastagli is editorial director of Astra House.

mineditionUS, the picture book publisher whose new editorial director is Maria Russo, former New York Times children's book editor.

Boyds Mills & Kane, the publisher of children's books that will continue to be led by publisher Juliana Lauletta.

Astra Quarterly, a new literary magazine that aims to publish "the best new writers from around the world" and will make its debut next year.

Ben Schrank

Schrank, who is former president and publisher of Holt and former president and publisher of Razorbill, commented: "The time is right for a new publishing house that's deeply committed to progressive values and that champions authors from all corners of the world. Astra Publishing House's foremost aim is to build bridges between readers and writers in all nations, and I'm so excited to be part of a venture that speaks to an increasing necessity for a shared global consciousness."

Leying Jiang, president of Astra Publishing House, said: "We have been building toward this moment for a long time and are so thrilled to have these brilliant editorial and publishing talents joining the leadership team. With a clear mission of publishing books that bridge the world and connect people and cultures, we look forward to an exciting new journey for this growing global publishing program here in the U.S."

Astra House, which will be distributed by Penguin Random House Publisher Services, will publish 20-25 titles a year, about half in translation, by authors who, Alessandra Bastagli said, "experience their subject deeply and personally, and who have a strong point of view; writers who represent multifaceted expressions of intellectual thought and personal experience, and who can introduce readers to new perspectives about their everyday lives as well as the lives of others." Bastagli was most recently an executive editor at Dey Street Books and earlier was editorial director at Nation Books, digital features editor at Al Jazeera America, senior editor at Free Press and executive editor at Palgrave Macmillan.

Astra House's first titles include Art in the Age of Cancel Culture by Farah Nayeri, about "the art world's uneasy reckoning with ethics and morals"; Winter Pasture by Li Juan, her first book published in English, chronicling her experiences traveling with a family of Kazakh herders; and The Biuty Queens by Iván Monalisa Ojeda, a collection of stories that offers insight into New York City's Latin American trans community.

Maria Russo

At minedition, Maria Russo will work with Michael Neugebauer, the founder of minedition, to expand readership and the imprint's commitment to bringing world-class illustration to books for every child. Russo, who is co-author of How to Raise a Reader, commented: "To leave a job as fulfilling as the New York Times children's books editor could only be for an opportunity that brings together my passions: literature, art, children, and cross-cultural understanding.... I'm looking forward to helping create a vibrant list of picture and board books that further the minedition philosophy: emotionally resonant, artistically sophisticated picture and boardbooks that build bridges between nations and cultures. I'm especially happy to be following this dream at such a tumultuous time, when raising globally aware, open-minded and open-hearted children has never been more important."

Neugebauer added: "This new relationship is another marriage of booklovers, as Maria Russo and I share the same philosophy in bookmaking, author and artist nurturing, and publishing for children in the U.S. and around the globe. We at minedition are truly looking forward with tremendous enthusiasm to how Maria's vision and this collaboration will benefit our audience, readers from ages 1-99."

Boyds Mills & Kane will continue its publishing program under publisher Julianna Lauletta with Calkins Creek, the historical imprint; Wordsong, dedicated to poetry; Kane Press; and Boyds Mills Press. Lauletta was named publisher last year and earlier was publisher and editorial director of Kane Press.

Astra Quarterly, the literary magazine, will be available as a print edition and online and headed by Yan Yan, an editor and translator in New York, with editorial staff in Europe and China.

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

Kent Watson Stepping Down as PubWest Executive Director

Kent Watson

Kent Watson, who has been executive director of PubWest since 2007, is stepping down from the position, effective June 12. PubWest president Colleen Dunn Bates, publisher and editor of Prospect Park Books, said, "I want to thank Kent for his 12-plus years of service, dedication, and integrity. I know he will thrive in his next chapter, and I look forward to him remaining a good friend of PubWest."

PubWest has begun the search for an interim executive director, and in the coming months, a search committee will seek a permanent executive director. Beginning on Thursday, May 21, interested candidates can find more information online.

PubWest is a nonprofit trade association for North American book publishers--from small independent presses to companies with worldwide operations--as well as related professionals, such as printers, designers, binderies and publishing freelancers.

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

N.H.'s Book Outlet Closed Permanently; Marshall Miller Retires

The Book Outlet, the new and used bookstore in North Hampton, N.H., has closed permanently, reported.

Marshall Miller, who founded the store in 1991, said that there were several reasons for the closing. In addition to the pressure of having to shut his doors because of Covid-19 restrictions, his own health had "a couple of setbacks," cash flow wasn't strong, and "I was concerned where I'd be financially when I opened back up." So at age 74, he decided to close the Book Outlet permanently so he could relax and enjoy time with his wife, Marilyn, seacoastonline wrote.

Unable to hold a going-out-of-business sale, Miller donated his inventory to "a man who donates books to more than 100 charitable agencies," he said.

Customers have lamented the closing. "I had people at the door crying," Miller said. "I am so grateful to everyone. I'm humbled by their response. The store wasn't just work to me. I love it and my customers."

People in the business also lament the closing. Former bookseller Debra Woodward said, "Marshall was my first boss over 40 years ago when he owned the wonderful Paperback Booksmith Musicsmith in Newington, N.H. He taught me bookselling. That was before the days of Amazon and just-in-time buying, and employees were constantly restocking their sections. We still used inventory cards (!), which were regularly checked. Sold five the first week? Order 10. We took chances on books we believed would be (often our own) bestsellers, so we had overstock during the holidays and never never ran out of those titles. He was a big supporter of local authors and publishers.

"He was also ahead of his time on how to use bargain books. Customers were drawn in by the ever-changing tables of remainders and promotional books in the front of the store, and he switched out lower priced remainders to the higher priced promotional titles of art, history, cooking for the holidays. It was an exciting time. (And his knowledge of music also drove the success of the 'record' side of the store.) Marshall devoted his life to bookselling and kept re-inventing his business model. He loved and respected his sales reps and formed lifelong friendships with them. He was the face of his stores and genuinely appreciated his customers with whom he enjoyed sharing his love of books. This is the end of an era."

How Bookstores Are Coping: By Appointment Only; 'Contact Free Browsing'

In Delray Beach, Fla., Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore has reopened by appointment only. Owner Joanne Sinchuk is allowing only two customers in store at a time and all customers are required to wear a mask. All staff members, meanwhile, will be wearing masks and wearing gloves when handling credit cards or cash.

Sinchuk reported that she and her team are still spending most of their time packing and shipping online and phone orders. The only real difference between now and the past several weeks, Sinchuk continued, is the occasional in-person customer.

The team is glad to be working again, and the store's customers are happy to be back. Sinchuk said they've received so many supportive e-mails and phone calls, and when a customer comes in for the first time in weeks, "it's like a reunion of old friends."

Sinchuk said she hasn't heard any push-back against social distancing rules and regulations in her community, and generally speaking it seems that roughly 50% of people going about their business in town are wearing masks. Sinchuk added that her store is in an especially vulnerable area, as Murder on the Beach is in the same building as the library and a large number of people experiencing homelessness frequent the library grounds. They do not have access to gloves or masks, she said, "so we definitely need to be even more careful."


Kate Rattenborg, owner of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, reported that retailers in many counties have been able to reopen for a few weeks now, but many of the businesses in her local retail community have decided to remain closed for in-store shopping and browsing. Rattenborg and her team have been shipping items and doing curbside pick-up and local delivery, and she's going to decide this week when she'll reopen for limited browsing.

Rattenborg said her staff is doing well, with some working from home and others coming in to the store. She received a PPP loan through her local bank, and described the process as "extremely straightforward." It also provided some much-needed financial relief. When asked about virtual events, Rattenborg said she hasn't been doing any. She added: "We're just trying to keep our heads above water!"


This week, House of Books in Kent, Conn., will expand its hours for curbside pick-up and introduce what general manager Ben Rybeck and his team are calling Contact-Free Browsing. The store's layout has been adjusted so that all major displays are now facing the doorway and front windows, making many more books visible from the entrance. 

Customers can stand behind glass, speak with a bookseller and view the store's new releases and curated reading lists. Booksellers will be able to browse for customers, and will gladly read customers the description of a particular book and/or the opening line or paragraph.

"What we can't do right now is let anyone other than booksellers into the store," said Rybeck in a message to customers, likening the shopping experience to going to a fast food joint, a food truck or a bodega. "This is for your safety as well as ours."

International Book Trade: Pan Mac's Virtual Author Tour for Indies

The first Virtually Together event will feature poet Brian Bilston in conversation with Bookish Crickhowell.

Starting today, Pan MacMillan authors are embarking on a virtual bookstore tour across the U.K. and Ireland through the Virtually Together campaign, which "aims to support booksellers during the coronavirus crisis, highlighting ways to help their business" the Bookseller reported.

Set to run through May 28, the initiative features authors choosing a bookshop that means something to them, with the opportunity for the Pan Mac sales team also to match-make authors and booksellers. Stores involved so far include Jaffe & Neale, Edinburgh Bookshop, Bookish Crickhowell, Nantwich, Goldsboro, Alligator's Mouth and Chorleywood Bookshop.

Pan Mac managing director Anthony Forbes Watson said: "The aim of this tour is to draw attention to high street booksellers, acknowledging their importance to us all, the job they're doing, the challenges they face, and how we can help. We want to support bookshops across the U.K. and Ireland, those who are able to trade and those who can't, for whatever reason.

"Each bookshop partner will be asked what will help them the most during this time. Customers can be asked to buy a book, a gift voucher to be used in the shop post-lockdown, to make a donation or to simply raise awareness of how important our high-street bookshops are to their communities. Matching a particular bookshop with a passionate author conveys the message that each bookshop is special, in its own way."


British bookstore chain Waterstones is making several digital services available to support staff in lockdown while the company's stores are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus crisis. Essential Retail reported that Waterstones "has teamed up with online, on-demand fitness class provider InstructorLive to give its employees free access to a digital workout and nutrition platform."

Waterstones said: "They class themselves as the Netflix for fitness and so we are sure our booksellers and colleagues, who are normally kept active in our bookshops, will be pleased to have this platform to help them keep active whilst they are safe at home."

Last week, Waterstones launched the digital mental health and wellbeing service Big White Wall for its employees. "The offering is designed to help members, if they choose to do so, to get support via a network of trained healthcare professionals and clinicians who are online at all times," Essential Retail wrote.


On April 29, 103 days after closing his bookshop in the Jianghan District of Wuhan, the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, Cheng Lei finally reopened Land at Ease. CGTN reported that while waiting for the application to reopen his store to be ratified by the local government, "he promptly moved his business online, accepting orders on WeChat. However, sales amounted to just 3,000 yuan [about $420] in April, falling far short of covering his costs."

"The three months were ruinous. We had zero profit," Cheng said. "People haven't been earning any money. There was hardly anything that you might call rebound consumption, given that books aren't an essential commodity."

The hardest time for him was from the end of January to late February, when several of his friends and colleagues were killed by the virus. "You can calculate the death toll, the amount of money lost and the impact on GDP," he observed. "But how do you define the true nature of the disaster? What about the emotional toll? I hope that after the outbreak we'll respect nature more. Respect lives. Respect laws and regulations. Otherwise, their sacrifice would be wasted."

Cheng strongly believes that through reading, people can look at themselves and society in a more objective light. "This hasn't changed from day one," he said. "I started from scratch, learning how to run a bookstore bit by bit. Everything I built here has become a part of me.... I'm blessed that I can work. I'm just living my life."


With more Canadian businesses being allowed to reopen, the Book Keeper in Sarnia, Ont., clarified its strategy in a Facebook post:

Yes, we heard the announcement about retail being allowed to open on Tuesday.
Yes, we are excited to reopen.
No, we are not quite ready lol.
Yes, the store is a mess lol.
No, we weren't quite prepared for that announcement today.
Yes, we are going to figure that out in the next week.
Yes, we are still doing curbside and deliveries for the time being.
Yes, we will have an announcement sometime next week concerning our opening day!
Yes! We can't wait to see everyone! But no hugs yet, save the hugs for later.


Image of the Day: Politics and Prose Workout

At Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C., booksellers have started partaking in an optional, socially distanced, 20-minute core workout at lunchtime to boost energy, improve posture and stretch.

EyeSeeMe Bookstore: 'Making a Difference in the Community'

"As you walk into EyeSeeMe Bookstore, one can easily be mesmerized by the beautiful decor, diverse children's books and a warm learning environment," STL Partnership noted in a piece, headlined "Making a Difference in the Community, One Book at a Time," about how the bookstore is handling the Covid-19 crisis.

Founded by Jeffrey and Pamela Blair in 2015 in the St. Louis Promise Zone area in North County, EyeSeeMe Bookstore's "goal is to help bridge the cultural divide, so that African American children can benefit from exposure to literature that respectfully mirrors themselves, their culture and their families," STL Partnership wrote.

"Raising African American children, we found it very difficult finding literature that represented them. We would search the web to find positive imagery for our kids also," said Jeffrey Blair. "This was one of the main motivators for the start of EyeSeeMe Bookstore."

During the novel coronavirus pandemic, the owners had to rearrange the operation of their business and have been able to secure a Small Business Resource Loan through the STL Partnership.

"The STL Partnership has been great providing resources and a pleasure to work with," said Blair. "Due to Covid-19, we are not able to interact with the public or host story time at our location like we used to. Our calendar was full of events that have been cancelled also. Everything basically changed overnight."

Despite the challenges, however, he is eager to continue to serve the community: "People are grateful to have this resource of an African American Bookstore in their community and our books are culturally diverse for all children to enjoy. We want to continue to stay in business and make a difference as long as we can."

Bookseller Moment: Book Larder

"Morning in the shop." Book Larder bookstore, Seattle, Wash., posted a Facebook video, noting: "This is what the current state of things looks like. Books stacked on tables for easy access. A dedicated area for packing and shipping boxes of cookbooks. Everything set up so anyone working has their own space. Soon I'll put the sandwich board sign in the open doorway and don my mask and gloves so you can pick up orders, me inside, you outside. With your help, we've made it work. We're planning what the next phase looks like, so we can welcome you safely, teach classes from afar, and continue to celebrate authors and their books. It sometimes feels like navigating with the stars instead of a map. But we'll get there. Thank you for joining us on this ever-changing journey!"

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Dan Harris on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story (Dey Street Books, $16.99, 9780062917607).

Good Morning America: Anna Solomon, author of The Book of V. (Holt, $27.99, 9781250257017).

TV: Great Expectations

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight is writing a six-part adaptation of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations for the BBC and FX, Deadline reported. He previously adapted the BBC/FX three-part series A Christmas Carol. Knight will exec produce with Ridley Scott, Tom Hardy, Dean Baker, David W. Zucker, Kate Crowe and Mona Qureshi for the BBC--the same team behind A Christmas Carol.

The two projects are the first in a series of adaptations of Dickens's novels, commissioned by Piers Wenger, controller of BBC Drama, and Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, alongside FX, and produced with FX Productions.

"I chose Great Expectations as the next work to bring to the screen not just because of the timeless characters, but also because of the very timely story," Knight said. "A story of class mobility and class intransigence, told through an intensely emotional and personal first person narrative. As the son of a blacksmith myself, Pip's journey from the forge into society is a very special one to me."

Books & Authors

Awards: Penderyn Music Book, Hayek Winners

Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow have won the Penderyn Music Book Prize, which is given to "music titles (history, theory, biography, autobiography)" published in the U.K., for their biography Up Jumped The Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson. The winner receives a check for £1,000 (about $1,245) and a bottle of Penderyn Single Cask Whiskey.

Conforth said: "To have our book be picked ahead of so many other worthy publications is truly overwhelming. I said that we were accepting the prize on behalf of Robert Johnson because for 50 years it has been our dream to free Johnson from the belief that he was merely a phantom about whom next to nothing would ever be known and to give him back his true identity....

"By doing away with the myths and providing the most comprehensive facts possible we wanted to give Robert his life back. In the process we found that the truth was far more interesting, more identifiable, and more tragic than any of the fantastic myths told about him. We owe great thanks to the judges and to Chicago Review Press, our American publisher, and Omnibus Press for printing our book in the U.K. Thank you so very much."


Alberto Alesina, Carlo Favero, and Francesco Giavazzi have won the Hayek Book Prize for their book Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn't (Princeton University Press). The $50,000 Hayek Prize is sponsored by the Manhattan Institute and honors "authors who best represent the principles of F.A. Hayek."

Speaking of the five books that were finalists for the prize, jury chair Amity Shlaes said, "In a time when a health crisis has caused Americans to turn to government, these books remind us that the best way to recovery lies with markets, not government expansion. Our winner, Austerity, couldn't be timelier, providing evidence that when it comes time to implement new policies, government cutbacks beat higher taxes."

Book Review

Review: 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love

22 Minutes of Unconditional Love by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 hardcover, 256p., 9780374140380, July 7, 2020)

Early on in Daphne Merkin's 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love, the narrator--a writer and a married woman who's pregnant with her second child--says this from her perch in the early 2000s: "I've been meaning to write this book for years.... It's for myself, of course, that I tell it but also for all of you who have stumbled into this kind of twisted love--love indistinct from obsession--and reeled from its force." Readers may consider Merkin's novel a fascinating look at human psychology, especially if they are intrigued by the notion of sadomasochism and admire Dr. Freud. As for those who find 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love's masochistic protagonist tough to take, they will nevertheless likely appreciate the book's vigorous prose and structural intricacy.

The narrator proceeds to rehash an episode in the life of her admitted alter ego, a woman she calls Judith Stone, an editor at a Manhattan publishing house. One night at a party in the early 1990s, Judith meets Howard Rose, a criminal lawyer. Judith and Howard skip dating and go straight to sex. Howard is physically and verbally domineering in bed--"Do I own you now?" is one of his choicer lines--and he's cold and cruel to Judith out of the sack. It's not that she doesn't see the problem with "the spell he cast on her and her willingness to fulfill his every whim, concubine-like"; she keeps pursuing Howard because she likes the kind of sex they're having and entertains a hope that he will grow to love her.

A character like Judith probably wouldn't have worked if 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love was set in the present day; for some readers (especially those whose tolerance level for certain controlling male behaviors was reset by the #MeToo movement), a character like Judith could never work. But Merkin, who has written one previous novel and three works of nonfiction, including This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, knows what she's doing and does it well, using 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love's meta aspect to wily effect. When the narrator--who interrupts her own storytelling with gabby chapter-length "digressions" that overanalyze Judith's (read: the narrator's) experience with Howard--tells the reader, "When we were together, I was always on his mind. Never, for a moment, did he forget about me," her abject self-deception renders her unexpectedly sympathetic. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: In Daphne Merkin's erotically charged novel, a narrator tells a story of sexual obsession involving her alter ego, a masochistic younger woman.

The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Self-Published Titles

The bestselling self-published books last week as compiled by

1. Rescue After Dark by Marie Force
2. Bullets and Beads (A Miss Fortune Mystery Book 17) by Jana DeLeon
3. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter
4. The Beach House by Rachel Hanna
5. The Fifth Vital by Mike Majlak and Riley J. Ford
6. Stone Princess (Tin Gypsy Book 3) by Devney Perry
7. Whispered Prayers of a Girl by Alex Grayson
8. Second (Betrothed Book 6) by Penelope Sky
9. Whatever for Hire by R.J. Blain
10. False Assurances by Christopher Rosow

[Many thanks to!]

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