Shelf Awareness for Thursday, June 4, 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

Quotation of the Day

'Pay Those Organizations that Have Been Supporting & Focusing on this Work for Years'

"We've seen a tremendous increase [in sales of books on anti-racism and race], and I think it really is stemming from white people. In light of recent events, a lot of people are now feeling a very visceral response in how they show up in this world, and how they see it from our lens.... Hopefully people are taking a moment to really look at how they have missed a lot of the marks in engaging with the black community. If you're really serious about changing, contributing and impacting the larger world, pay those organizations that have been supporting and focusing on this work for years."

--Ramunda Lark Young, co-founder of MahoganyBooks, Washington, D.C., quoted in a Time magazine article that also featured booksellers Eso Won Books in Los Angeles and Knights Of and Round Table Books in London, as well as publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove's Dialogue Books imprint

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


News

Uncle Hugo's/Uncle Edgar's 'Official' Crowdfunding Campaign

Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore, Minneapolis, Minn., which were burned to the ground last Thursday night in the first protests following the murder of George Floyd, have taken over a GoFundMe campaign that had been founded by a fan but wasn't officially run by "the Uncles."

In a statement on the Official Help Save Uncle Hugo's Fund page, Sam Blyly-Strauss, son of bookstores owner Don Blyly, said in part, "We're still not sure what form any eventual rebuild of the business will take or what the timeline might end up being, but you can all rest assured that any donations to this GoFundMe will reach Don Blyly for use in rebuilding. As my day job is managing security for a multi-building site in Downtown Minneapolis, I'm pretty swamped right now but will be placing updates here when they become available. The Uncle Hugo's Facebook page is another good place to check for general updates. I'll respond to any questions as I'm able, but I can't guarantee a super fast response time with everything else going on. Thank you all for your continued support in this difficult time."

The fund had been started by Alexi Vandenberg in Wayne, N.J. Blyly's comment, posted on Facebook: "The guy from New Jersey who set up the GoFundMe page without permission was an honest guy just trying to help, but was over-eager. Last night he transferred the site over to Uncle Hugo's. People no longer need fear that it is a scam from New Jersey. So friends, feel free to donate!"

As of this morning, the Official Help Save Uncle Hugo's Fund has raised more than $63,000 toward its goal of $500,000.

The store's website said that Blyly is meeting with his lawyer tomorrow and "should have more news for you here this weekend."

According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, the Uncles had more than 100,000 used and new volumes, including rare signed editions and "decades of collectibles," whose retail value Blyly estimated at about $1 million.

He added that for now he plans to run a small mail order business from his home, starting with Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's branded T-shirts and sweatshirts. In addition, "A lot of authors have offered to send me signed books, so I'll be selling signed books on the internet. And I'm going to start selling off my personal library one book at a time."


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


Libro.fm Bestsellers Last Weekend: Top 10 Were All Anti-Racist Titles

Booksellers around the country have reported a big jump in sales of anti-racist books that began toward the end of last week, as the protests over the murder of George Floyd spread nationwide and readers wanted to learn more about racism, anti-racism and Black Lives Matter. One striking example is Libro.fm's list of bestselling digital audiobooks for last Saturday through Monday: all top 10 bestselling titles on Libro.fm were anti-racist books. (See the list below.) And sales volume has been striking: sales of the top 10 bestselling audiobooks on Monday, June 1, were up more than 500% compared to the top 10 audiobooks on May 1.

In addition, Libro.fm reports that yesterday was the company's biggest sales day in its history, which it attributed to readers turning to digital audiobooks as a way to support Black-owned bookstores since many print books are sold out. As Libro.fm noted, digital audiobooks are always in stock.

Libro.fm's bestselling books Saturday, May 30-Monday, June 1:

1. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (Penguin Random House Audio)
2. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press)
3. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (Blackstone Audio)
4. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Blackstone Audio)
5. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Hachette Audio)
6. Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi (Novel Audio)
7. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Penguin Random House Audio)
8. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Recorded Books)
9. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall (Penguin Random House Audio)
10. The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale (Tantor Media)


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


How Bookstores Are Coping: Slowly Adjusting to the Requirements of Reopening

Josh Cook, marketing manager and co-owner of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., reported that as part of phase one of the state's reopening plan, the bookstore is now able to do curbside pickup but no customers are allowed in-store yet. There is a plan for phase two, but Porter Square Books will probably not allow browsing for a while, even after it becomes legally allowed, if the team feels that it can't ensure that shopping is a safe and relaxing experience for customers.

At present, Cook and the PSB staff have adjusted their workflow to allow for four booksellers working in the store at the same time, and it is unclear if they'll be able to increase that number or not. Whenever they do decide to open for browsing, they will make adjustments to reduce contact at the register and the POS system doesn't automatically print receipts. There will also be some bigger changes, like rearranging fixtures and displays to manage the flow of customers.

Overall, Cook said, the staff is doing pretty well, especially compared to stores that have had to lay off or furlough employees. Still, there have been some major challenges, such as working extremely hard to process online orders and being unable to socialize with customers and other booksellers.

Cook and his fellow booksellers have been experimenting with a variety of online events, especially those that help bring staff into the community. The store's first virtual event was Poetry Karaoke, where four booksellers read some of their favorite poems. Upcoming is a virtual version of the store's Grown Up Book Fair, which will feature booksellers recommending books for summer reading and answering readers' questions.

Cook said that prior to this past weekend, many of the store's bestsellers were books such as The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, and puzzles are finally starting to slow down a bit. But after the nationwide wave of protests that began last week in response to the murder of George Floyd, the store has seen an unprecedented surge in orders for all sorts of anti-racist books, with the majority of them now sold-out. Remarked Cook: "I've never seen anything like it."

---

In Houston, Tex., Blue Willow Bookshop reopened this week for limited browsing. Owner Valerie Koehler and her team prefer that shoppers make appointments, and though they are permitting walk-ins, they are allowing no more than three families in the store at a time. The store's credit card machines all now face the customers and the staff would prefer not to touch cash. All books that are handled but not purchased are "quarantined" until the next day, and there are no sample games or puzzles "available for little hands."

Koehler said her staff alternates between being very leery about people entering the shop and "just plain exhausted" with the amount of time it takes to process phone and online orders. She added that she is requiring all customers to wear masks, and she expects there to be some pushback because of this. Koehler did not reopen her store immediately once the governor of Texas lifted the state's stay-at-home order, and she and her team were told that they were being "uppity."

Blue Willow has been scheduling virtual events, with the store's book clubs meeting via Zoom and its weekly storytime on Facebook Live. The first virtual author event was a session with Elizabeth Wetmore, author of Valentine, and more are being scheduled for the summer. Cathy Berner, the store's children's/YA specialist and events coordinator, is working with partner schools to figure out what the fall will look like. Unfortunately, the store won't be able to hold its annual Tweens Read festival in person, but the steering committee is planning some online alternatives.

Many of the store's book group picks have been strong sellers, as have many nonfiction titles related to current events. As far as sidelines go, the store has sold "so many" jigsaw puzzles and keeps getting calls for more.

---

Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Del., also reopened on Monday, and events coordinator Zandria Senft reported that all customers and staff members are being required to wear facemasks. Hand sanitizer is available at the store's entrance, and Bethany Beach Books is operating at 30% capacity, meaning that no more than 21 customers at a time. There is signage everywhere reminding customers to practice social distancing, and whenever a customer uses a pen to sign a receipt, it is put aside to be sanitized at the end of the night.

Customers have been very eager to get back in the store and "actually see the books in person," Senft said. Both local customers and vacationers have shown the bookstore a lot of support, and she added that it's been great to see them in person again. For the most part, the Bethany Beach community is "very on board" with wearing facemasks and social distancing, as they are a necessity for reopening.

Bethany Beach is a popular resort town, Senft continued, and by this time in a normal summer it would have already started to fill up with people on vacation. With the ongoing pandemic, however, local businesses and year-round residents are not yet seeing that influx of visitors.

When asked about what's selling, Senft pointed to a few titles that the store "cannot seem to keep on the shelf," including Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner, All Adults Here by Emma Straub, Untamed by Glennon Doyle Melton and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.


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


International Update: Uncertainty in Russia, Optimism in Uruguay

Falanster's new location

In Russia, when Moscow authorities closed non-essential businesses to decrease the spread of Covid-19, Boris Kupriyanov, co-founder of Falanster, one of the country's best-known independent bookshops, "began to personally deliver books to his customers," AFP (via France24) reported.

The strategy helped him and his store survive over the past two months. "In many ways this has become our salvation," he said. "We've kept going only because people wanted to buy our books and help us."

Many small and medium-sized businesses were allowed to reopen Monday, "as authorities gradually ease confinement restrictions in Russia, which has reported more than 396,000 coronavirus infections--the third-largest caseload after the United States and Brazil," AFP noted. But a recent study found that about a third of Russian companies risk bankruptcy, with the trade and services industries among the hardest-hit.

The government has not offered much help, according to Kupriyanov: "We have not felt any major support from the state. This has been an ordeal and unfortunately for many companies it has become fatal."

The crisis dealt a major blow to Falanster, "a treasure trove of intellectual literature including small print-run books by little-known authors," AFP wrote. Before the novel coronavirus hit, "business had flourished and the shop had just moved to bigger premises on Tverskaya Street in the heart of Moscow."

He and his staff launched a delivery service in March, and Kupriyanov said he was grateful for the opportunity to work and keep his mind occupied. "When you make 10 to 15 to 20 deliveries a day, you simply have no time to think about what's happening." Noting that he wanted to make a new website and develop online sales after they reopen, he is still wary: "We do not know whether Russians can still afford to buy books."

---

Leonardo Silveira, owner of a Montevideo bookstore, "is optimistic about the future now that Uruguay is starting a gradual reopening of business, after the country maintained one of the lowest levels of Covid-19 in Latin America, at a time when the region becomes an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic," Reuters reported.

The country is in the process of reactivating the economy. Silveira said that customers who hadn't shown up in a while have begun returning to the bookstore: "People come not only to buy books, but to see you and talk for a while. It's a joy to see them--from a distance, but together here at the store."

---

Covid-19 restrictions were further relaxed in Trinidad and Tobago on Monday, allowing retail establishments, malls, professional services and bookstores to reopen. Loop News reported that public gatherings remain at five people, while public transport continues to operate at 50% capacity.

In his announcement, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said Phase 3 "would open up completely all retail establishments. Now this is a major sector because it covers all aspects of small trade, small business. We open up malls and all of these businesses would conclude their daily activity at 6 p.m."

On Facebook, Charran's bookstore chain had a celebratory post: "FINALLY!!!! We can't wait to get back to work and we look forward to serving all our customers. Please remember to wear a mask when shopping at any of our outlets. Safety first!"


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


Notes

Image of the Day: 'Hearting' Anderson's

Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, Ill., shared this:

"Yesterday there was an incident where some young women tried to hang BLM hearts on the boarded up windows of the Apple store across the street from our bookstore, and a few individuals stopped them and ripped them down. This group responded in such a graceful manner, organizing a peaceful 'hearting' of approved store windows (ours included) this afternoon in response. We wanted to share images of the crowd that came out and the positivity shared by doing so. It brought tears to all of our eyes."

 


Booksellers Supporting Booksellers

Posted yesterday by the Spiral Bookcase, Philadelphia, Pa.: "Shop local, Black-owned book and comic shops here in Philadelphia! We love seeing how many special orders you guys have been putting in for anti-racism books and we'd love it even more if you placed those orders through your favorite Black-owned bookshop. Swipe through to see some of our favorites, which include Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books, Harriett's Bookshop, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse and Hakim's Bookstore & Gift Shop. Don't forget to speak up--sign petitions, protest, examine yourself and your family members, donate and keep doing the work. Keep an eye on our stories for more resources!"


Reni Eddo-Lodge on Recommending Her Book

Monday was the third anniversary of the U.K. publication of Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, who Tweeted Sunday: "I was going to save saying something until then, as I'm on a social media hiatus, but urgent circumstances have drawn me back.

"Because of the past week's horrible and tragic events, I've noticed a marked uptick in people recommending my book. I'm asking everyone who buys a copy to please match however much you bought it with a donation to the @MNFreedomFund.

"Better yet, borrow a copy from a friend/your local library and donate what you would have spent to @MNFreedomFund. This book financially transformed my life and I really don't like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person's death goes viral.

"I will be making a donation to @MNFreedomFund today and will do so again when I receive my royalty payment for this quarter.

"If you're going to buy a copy, please order from your local independent bookshop (let's keep them going during this pandemic) and also donate to your local and national racial justice organisations, if you can spare the funds. Thanks everyone."



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Anne Applebaum on Fresh Air

Today:
Fresh Air: Anne Applebaum, author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (Doubleday, $25, 9780385545808), which will be published July 21.

NPR's Here & Now: Claudia Rankine, author of Just Us: An American Conversation (Graywolf Press, $30, 9781644450215), which will be published September 8.


This Weekend on Book TV: Barbara Ehrenreich

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, June 6
2:50 p.m. Kate Greene, author of Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250159472). (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

3:20 p.m. Colin Calloway, author of The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation (Oxford University Press, $21.95, 9780190056698). (Re-airs Monday at 5:15 a.m.)

4:30 p.m. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Had I Known: Collected Essays (Twelve, $28, 9781455543670), at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

6:40 p.m. Mario Livio, author of Galileo: And the Science Deniers (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501194733), at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.

7:45 p.m. Marie Mockett, author of American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland (Graywolf Press, $28, 9781644450178). (Re-airs Sunday at 9:45 a.m.)

8:30 p.m. Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States (Norton, $19.95, 9780393357424).

9 p.m. Symone Sanders, author of No, You Shut Up: Speaking Truth to Power and Reclaiming America (Harper, $26.99, 9780062942685).

11 p.m. Bakari Sellers, author of My Vanishing Country: A Memoir (Amistad, $26.99, 9780062917454).

Sunday, June 7
12 a.m. Esther Safran Foer, author of I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir (Tim Duggan Books, $27, 9780525575986).

1 a.m. Christian Brose, author of The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare (Hachette Books, $28, 9780316533539).

12 p.m. Live In-Depth q&a with Yuval Levin, author of A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream (Basic Books, $28, 9781541699274).

4 p.m. Eve Ewing, author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side (University of Chicago Press, $22.50, 9780226526027).


Books & Authors

Awards: Prix Voltaire; Commonwealth Short Story Regional Winners

The Liberal Publishing House in Vietnam has been awarded the 2020 Prix Voltaire, sponsored by the International Publishers Association and celebrating the freedom to publish. The Liberal Publishing House was founded last year in Ho Chi Minh City by a group of dissidents as a challenge to the Vietnamese government's control of the publishing industry, the IPA said. "Through their work, which they are forced to carry out clandestinely due to the government's crackdown on what they consider 'anti-state' activity, the voices of Vietnam's growing crop of dissident writers have reached the nation's readers. In Vietnam, such publications are banned by the government and gathered under the name Samizdat--a word describing the illegal copying and distribution of books."

Kristenn Einarsson, chair of the IPA's Freedom to Publish Committee, said: "The work of Liberal Publishing House in Vietnam as guerilla publishers, making books available in a climate of intimidation and risk for their own personal safety, is nothing short of inspirational. The international publishing community recognizes their bravery and will support them however we can."

Liberal Publishing House spokesperson Pham Doan Trang, an author and journalist, said: "The men and women who work for the Liberal Publishing House every day risk their safety, their freedom and even their lives altogether just to publish books. The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but it represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, who have been arrested and interrogated simply for reading our books."

---

Commonwealth Writers announced regional winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Each receives £2,500 (about $3,120). The five regional winners' stories are being published online by Granta. The overall winner, who receives £5,000 (about $6,235), will be named June 30. Regional honorees are:

Africa: "When a Woman Renounces Motherhood" by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria)
Asia: "The Great Indian Tee and Snakes" by Kritika Pandey (India)
Canada & Europe: "Wherever Mister Jensen Went" by Reyah Martin (U.K.)
Caribbean: "Mafootoo" by Brian S. Heap (Jamaica)
Pacific: "The Art of Waving" by Andrea E. Macleod (Australia)

Chair of the judges, Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes, said: "I don't believe there is a perfect story; there are great stories, but no perfect stories. What is amazing is what happens when a story encounters a ready reader or listener--that moment is magic. That connection is never the same for any two people or for any two moments and that's why I love judging competitions: I get to talk about stories with other people who love stories, but it's completely unpredictable. We now have a list of regional winning stories that are striking for their lateral leaps, their use of language, voice and subversion--and their sheer courage. I look forward to the discussions with my fellow judges to pick an overall winner. I guarantee that it will be a story that moves people, but I don't know which one it will be."


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, June 9:

Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World by Chris Wallace and Mitch Weiss (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781982143343) recounts the months preceding the bombing of Hiroshima.

The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck by Christian Busch (Riverhead, $28, 9780593086025) explores moments of serendipity.

Daddy's Girls: A Novel by Danielle Steel (Delacorte, $28.99, 9780399179624) follows three daughters who inherit their late father's ranch.

All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani (Greenwillow, $18.99, 9780062656919) features a young couple discovering first love and first heartbreak.

It's Not My Fault! by Jory John, illus. by Jared Chapman (Random House, $17.99, 9781984830609) is a picture book that gives a ton of reasons why something might not be a young boy's fault.

Paperbacks:
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho (Putnam, $15.99, 9780593187814).

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai (Berkley, $16, 9780593100561).


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover
I'd Give Anything: A Novel by Marisa de los Santos (Morrow, $27.99, 9780062844484). "A beautifully written story of identity lost and found, friendship, the love of a mother for her child, and what happens when decades-old secrets are brought to light. Ginny is married with a teenage daughter when her husband's scandal threatens to bring her world crashing down around her. Strong female relationships take the lead as Ginny strives to protect her daughter and reckons with her past. Highly recommend." --Jessica Nock, Main Street Books, Davidson, N.C.

Sea Wife: A Novel by Amity Gaige (Knopf, $26.95, 9780525656494). "Wherever you go, your anxieties go with you--even (or especially) if you go live on a boat to sail the world with your spouse and small children. Nothing will ever be the same for Juliet, Michael, and their family after their harrowing year at sea, and no reader will be the same after reading this taut, brilliant novel. I can't stop thinking about it." --Mary Laura Philpott, Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn.

Paperback
Reproduction: A Novel by Ian Williams (Europa Editions, $18, 9781609455750). "I hardly know where to start with my need to talk about this book! Reproduction is a love story spanning three decades, from the early '80s to the 2000s, starting in Toronto, a city of vast differences in wealth and cultures. The unlikely couple (Edgar, a rich, idle German, and Felicia, a poor 19-year-old immigrant from the West Indies) meet and start an unconventional relationship, with lifelong consequences for them both. Don't let the 550-page count fool you: The writing style is the opposite of weighty and dense--it is mischievous, funny, moving, and full of stunning revelations about how strangers become family. Simply breathtaking!" --Kelly Justice, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va.

For Ages 4 to 8
Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo (Knopf, $16.99, 9781524766719). "In the gentle tradition of Winnie the Pooh, this book weaves together the adventures of several woodland creatures (and one human). Hedgehog leaves her cozy, comfy island to look for her beloved friend, who was blown away in a storm. Tense moments quickly pass due to Hedgehog's perseverance and strength. A sweet beginning to a new series!" --Robin Stern, Books Inc., San Francisco, Calif.

For Ages 9 to 12
Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick (Putnam, $17.99, 9781984815316). "A mutual friend goes missing and twin sisters Frankie, a young teen on the spectrum, and popular Tess try to solve the mystery. The loyalty of sisters, friendship, and acceptance all come into play in this well-written and engaging book." --Marlene Craig, The Well-Read Moose, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

For Teen Readers
Heartstopper: Volume 1 by Alice Oseman (Graphix, $24.99, 9781338617443). "After being forced out of the closet last year, Charlie is 'the gay kid' at his boys' school. The bullying has pretty much stopped, but now he has other problems--like his crush on his cute (straight) classmate Nick. Nick is a rugby star, and though he's nice, he couldn't possibly be interested in someone like Charlie, especially since Nick already has a crush on a girl… right? A sweet story about teen friendship and love that will melt your heart the same way Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda did." --Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Review: Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time

Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time by Ben Ehrenreich (Counterpoint, $26 hardcover, 336p., 9781640093539, July 7, 2020)

With its evocative blend of nature and travel writing, philosophy and history, journalist Ben Ehrenreich's Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time, merits favorable comparison with works like Annie Dillard's For the Time Being and broad swaths of recent writing by Rebecca Solnit. All of these elements are skillfully melded in a work that's intellectually challenging, thoughtful and consistently surprising.

Ehrenreich (The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine) opens what reads like an enhanced collection of undated journal entries in November 2017. At the time, he and his partner shared a house in the California desert, only a few minutes from the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Several months later, he moves to Las Vegas to spend a semester at a literary institute. As he vividly describes it, there hardly could be a greater contrast between the "urgency, brilliance, and stubbornness of life" he comes to relish in the wild expanse of Joshua Tree and the soulless city of hotels and casinos carved from the "same desert, only paved."

But above everything, Ehrenreich's subject is time, or, more specifically, a critique of Western civilization's idea of progress, "via the straightest route available--the only one, at that--from a pitiable primitive infancy to the heights of rational civilized society," and our belief that "our only option was to continue to climb the same path." Citing the California wildfires of 2018 and the ocean rise that will swamp 153 million people by the end of this century, he argues that this "illusion of eternal, self-sustaining growth" has launched humankind on the path to eventual environmental destruction.

To make his case that there are "always other roads, other ways to see things, other stories, other routes," he draws on a broad range of sources, deeply immersing himself in hauntingly beautiful Native American creation stories and pondering the esoteric work of thinkers like 16th-century philosopher Jacob Boehme. It's a fascinating journey in the company of Ehrenreich and a diverse group of eminent writers that include Jorge Luis Borges and Walter Benjamin, and others lesser known but equally compelling, whose work he handles with a comfortable facility. One comes away from Desert Notebooks not only with a deeper appreciation for some of America's wildest and most rugged spaces, but with a better sense of how we got to where we are and at least a glimmer of what an alternative path into the future might look like. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Ben Ehrenreich explores America's landscape and history in a deep meditation on nature and time.


The Bestsellers

Top Book Club Picks in May

The following were the most popular book club books during May based on votes from book club readers in more than 48,000 book clubs registered at Bookmovement.com.

1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
2. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
3. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
4. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings
5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
6. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
7. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
8. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
9. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
10. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Rising Stars:
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex by Michael Todd


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