Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 10, 2020

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

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

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

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

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

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

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

Quotation of the Day

Entering Bookshops Again 'Like Finding Water in the Desert'

"As coronavirus shuts Melbourne down again we face the reality of the challenge playing out across the world. We've all read and listened to the experts about sanitizing and distancing. The economic and psychological considerations are more difficult to contemplate. Bookselling, as far as I can determine, is not the problem. Frustration at the behavior of others isn't healthy but it's likely we all feel it in some fashion.

"Using my own experience I find some peculiar reactions. E-mails, for example, which were a lifeline in the initial lockdown, now seem to cause me some distress. I have no idea what it is about, but simply want to urge anyone feeling out of sorts to seek out someone to talk to, or even professional help. The day I can walk into your bookshops again will come around, and like finding water in the desert will be lifesaving. Take care all. Those in Melbourne, doubly so."

--Robbie Egan, Australian Booksellers Association CEO, in a letter to members

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


Book Boutique Pop-Up Opens in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Book Boutique opened this week as a pop-up store at 59 N. Main St. in Fond du Lac, Wis. The FDL Reporter wrote that the Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership's Pop-Up Fond du Lac program "offered a way for [owner Margaux] Mich to try out bookselling for a few months, and if all goes well, she could fulfill her dream and open a more permanent storefront downtown."

"It's like a staff-pick bookshop," said Mich. The store's selection has to be limited, so she chose titles that hold personal significance, as well as recommendations from herself and her loved ones, including a children's books section. "One of the most important things to me is children's education. I really wanted to provide materials to inspire young readers."

The shop may eventually add a reading nook for children, as well as book club nights, but those plans are currently on hold due to Covid-19 precautions. Also featured are "book-adjacent items selected to match the reading vibes--and even a few titles. These include elastic bookmarks, book sleeves, mugs and bookends," FDL Reporter noted.

"Anything that goes with a cozy night of reading," said Mich, who has been selling handmade artmarks on Etsy and her online store, Book Art Bookmarks. They will also be featured at Book Boutique.

The bookshop has opened "with proper Covid-19 precautions, including diligent cleaning, masked staff and optimized airflow between central air conditioning, the open front door and an air purifier," FDL Reporter wrote. "Wares will be spread out to make social distancing easier. Patrons are encouraged to wear masks and to stay home if they have any symptoms of illness."

"We're excited for you all to come," Mich said. "We hope everyone enjoys what we have to offer."

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

Half Price Books 'Making Its Nashville Debut' with New Store

Half Price Books is opening its first Tennessee store Monday at 21 White Bridge Road in Nashville, the Tennessean reported. The company operates 120 locations across the U.S.

"Nashville has been a market we have been looking at for a long time," said Half Price Books spokeswoman Emily Bruce, who added that the original plan to open the store in May was delayed because of Covid-19 concerns.

Phoebe Robinson and Plume Found Tiny Reparations Books

Phoebe Robinson

Author, stand-up comedian, writer, actress, and producer Phoebe Robinson and her publisher, Plume, are launching an imprint called Tiny Reparations Books. Christine Ball, publisher of Dutton and Plume, will also serve as publisher of the new imprint, while Robinson will be founder. Robinson's longtime publicist, Sam Srinivasan at Sechel PR, will partner with Plume to provide publicity for Tiny Reparations Books.

Tiny Reparations Books will publish literary fiction and nonfiction, as well as essay collections that "highlight and amplify unique and diverse voices. The imprint is committed to publishing complex, honest, and humorous work that not only reflects the current conversation but also pushes it forward."

Ball said, "We're excited about this important and necessary addition to the Dutton/Plume publishing programs. Robinson, a ferociously skilled writer and bestselling author with her finger on the pulse, is the perfect person to help us further diversify the Plume list. She has never shied away from tackling topics that many avoid, and we look forward to this partnership and working with the talented new authors that we will bring to the world together."

Robinson said, "We all know there is a lack of diversity in publishing. Tiny Reparations Books recognizes that the publishing landscape isn't going to change until the actual work starts behind the scenes. I am thrilled to partner with Plume to help take this important step. And I look forward to bringing a wide range of voices to Plume and helping to push the boundaries of publishing."

Robinson is best known as the co-creator and costar of the podcast 2 Dope Queens, which was turned into eight one-hour HBO episodes. She is the author of You Can't Touch My Hair and Everything's Trash, but It's Okay. She was also a staff writer for the final season of Portlandia and made her film debut in the Netflix comedy Ibiza. She hosted the podcast Sooo Many White Guys with WNYC and has just launched a new advice podcast, Black Frasier. She will also star in and executive-produce a 10-episode interview show on Comedy Central called Doing the Most with Phoebe Robinson, which focuses on pop-culture luminaries. The show is the first project produced by Robinson's production company, also named Tiny Reparations.

Plume also has just bought world rights to Robinson's next book, Six Feet Apart, for publication in fall 2021, in which, Plume said, "Robinson takes stock of the world, from the personal (her evolving relationship with her boyfriend known to her legions of fans as 'British Baekoff') to the global (the damaging narratives of Black exceptionalism and the quiet strength of introverts). With Six Feet Apart, Robinson yet again dismantles the stereotypes we hold about ourselves and others with hilarious and always honest, timely observations."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Meeting the Challenge to Work, Browse Safely

Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, N.C., reopened for browsing by appointment near the end of May. Senior buyer and bookstore manager Justin Souther said appointments are available only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with five slots available every hour. Browsing is also restricted to North Carolina residents only.

Souther and the Malaprop's team have cut down the number of registers so that customers and staff can maintain social distance. They've also created new work and storage spaces, and everyone gets assigned a workstation, so only one person is using a given phone or computer during a shift. Masks are worn inside the store at all times, and shifts are scheduled to guarantee there's enough space for everyone to work safely. There are hand sanitizer stations throughout the store, and there are places for customers to leave books they've picked up but don't intend to buy. The store is fairly sizable, Souther added, so social distancing is "surprisingly easy."

Despite Asheville as a whole being fairly receptive to wearing masks, Souther continued, there have been some difficult interactions and at least one lecture. Asheville is also a tourist town, and Malaprop's has definitely seen an uptick in out-of-town visitors lately. At the same time, Souther has noticed more and more people on the streets wearing masks. "It seems like people are beginning to accep the reality of what masks do and how important they are."

On the subject of the protests that began in late May after the murder of George Floyd, Souther reported that Malaprop's decided to make an antiracist reading list fairly early on, and to donate a portion of sales from that list to Southerners on New Ground, a queer liberation organization, and to Building Bridges of Asheville, a local educational program that aims to dismantle racism. The bookstore plans to continue making those donations for the foreseeable future, and they've put together a list of community and regional organizations fighting for justice.


In St. Paul, Minn., Next Chapter Booksellers is open for curbside pick-up, home delivery and mail orders, store manager David Enyeart reported. They have not yet reopened for browsing, but are talking to customers over the phone, by e-mail and on social media. Enyeart and his team have also dispersed staff workstations throughout the store, so that everyone can work safely.

When asked about his community's attitude toward wearing masks and social distancing, Enyeart said there isn't resistance, exactly. The issue is that there are no clear guidelines or community standards. Until wearing masks becomes a widespread social norm, he added, there will be a lot of need for bookstores to educate their customers.

Next Chapter was not damaged during the protests in the Twin Cities, though Enyeart did close for a few days so that staff would not need to travel unnecessarily. They also boarded up the windows for a short time, out of an abundance of caution.

Obituary Note: Kent Bryant

Kent Bryant

Kent Bryant, a long-time bookseller at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., died last weekend after a long battle with cancer. 

General manager Jason Jefferies wrote that Bryant was "extremely capable at everything he did," and in particular was a tremendous bookseller and editor. For years Bryant was responsible for the store's newsletter, QuailMail, and he was instrumental in the bookstore's efforts to redesign its website and overhaul its marketing approach.

Jefferies recalled that after Bryant's cancer resurfaced, he said: "Even if I am never able to come back to work, I still want to be able to tell people that I work at Quail Ridge Books."


'Get to Know Your Booksellers': Greedy Reads

"We've all been pushed into behind the scenes roles and don't get to see your faces anymore, so I thought I'd spend some time this week introducing, or reintroducing, our brilliant team! Get to know your booksellers," Greedy Reads, Baltimore, Md., posted on Facebook. "Say hi to Jalesa! @jalesadarling is the first person I ask when I want a thriller recommendation. She's the co-leader of our sci-fi book club, and has been working hard since the shutdown, processing and packing your orders in Remington!"

"Hi! This is me with a stack of books I'm excited about digging into in the coming months," Jalesa added. "I'm a notoriously predictable thriller and sci-fi reader. Baltimore will always have a special place in my heart for many reasons but particularly for its amazing food, talented artists, and being able to surround myself with books at Greedy Reads."

Media and Movies

TV: Brave New World; A Spy Among Friends

Brave New World, the new TV series adaptation of Aldous Huxley's dystopian classic, will premiere July 15 on Peacock, the new streaming service from NBC Universal. Check out the trailer here. The series stars Demi Moore, Alden Ehrenreich (Solo), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), Nina Sosanya (Killing Eve), and Joseph Morgan (The Originals).


Damian Lewis (Billions) and Dominic West (The Affair) "are in negotiations" to headline and executive produce a limited series adaptation of Ben Macintyre's bestselling book A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, for Spectrum Originals and BritBox, Deadline reported. The six-episode project comes from former Homeland executive producer Alexander Cary, Sony Pictures Television and ITV Studios. It is tentatively scheduled to premiere in the fall of 2021.

Books & Authors

Awards: Orwell Winners

Winners have been named for the 2020 Orwell Prizes, which reward work that comes closest to achieving George Orwell's ambition to "make political writing into an art." Each winner in the four categories receives £3,000 (about $3,760).

Colson Whitehead won the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction for The Nickel Boys, which the judging panel called an "expertly crafted historical novel," adding that it "is as convincing in its character portrayal as it is unsparing in its depiction of corruption and racial brutality. All the while it provides unimpeachable evidence that human dignity and love can provide a beacon for transforming lives that's ultimately more powerful and enduring than violence."

The Orwell Prize for Political Writing went to Kate Clanchy for Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. The judges commented: "In this book, a brilliantly honest writer tackles a subject that ties so many people up in knots--education and how it is inexorably dominated by class. Yet this is the very opposite of a worthy lecture: Clanchy's reflections on teaching and the stories of her students are moving, funny, full of love and offer sparkling insights into modern British society."

In the journalism categories, Ian Birrell won the Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain's Social Evils and the Orwell Prize for Journalism went to Janice Turner.

Reading with... R.L. Maizes

photo: Adrianne Mathiowetz

R.L. Maizes is the author of the short story collection We Love Anderson Cooper. Her work has aired on National Public Radio and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, McSweeney's Internet Tendency and elsewhere. Her debut novel is Other People's Pets (Celadon, July 14, 2020)

On your nightstand now:

Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman. It's funny and moving and the main characters suffer from anxiety, which, sadly, I can relate to. I just finished Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmanns of Westport and Fin & Lady, and enjoyed both. Deacon King Kong by James McBride is up next.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking books. I have three sisters, and sometimes I thought it would be nice to replace them with a chest of coins and a monkey. When I got a little older, I read Chaim Potok's books The Chosen, The Promise and My Name Is Asher Lev. They're about the conflict between individual and communal identity. As a young Orthodox Jew who was already thinking about leaving the religious community, I identified with the struggles of the characters.

Your top five authors:

It's very difficult to choose just five, but these are some of the writers whose books I treasure: Kent Haruf, Ramona Ausubel, Ruth Ozeki, Alice Munro and George Saunders. I love magical realism and especially the way it's used in the Ausubel novel No One Is Here Except All of Us and the Saunders collection Tenth of December. 

Book you've faked reading:

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I picked it up again recently and only managed a chapter. Also, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I want to be the kind of person who finishes that book, but I'm not.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Lately, I've been recommending You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy to everyone I know. It helped me to have deeper conversations with friends and family. For a long time, I couldn't stop telling people about Mad Boy by Nick Arvin. It's funny and tender and has talking dead people. Hard to top that. I recommend everything by Steve Yarbrough, and especially his most recent novel, The Unmade World. He has immense compassion for his characters, even the less-likable ones, which is something I strive for as a writer.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I will read anything by Kevin Wilson. His latest novel, Nothing to See Here, is wonderful. But I also loved and was jealous of the cover, which features a cartoon child bursting into flames.

Book you hid from your parents:

A racy novel whose title I honestly can't remember. Something to do with a mountain, maybe? I dog-eared all the sexy bits, and read them over and over, though it's possible you wouldn't call what I did reading.

Book that changed your life:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It's a deeply moving book, and it taught me about parts of the world and a history of oppression I knew nothing about. It made me realize how inadequate my education had been.

Favorite line from a book:

Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese" (from her collection of the same title), which begins, "You do not have to be good." I get a thrill when I see or hear the opening line quoted and have to stop whatever I'm doing and read the entire poem, usually more than once.

Five books you'll never part with:

Among my top five:

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel

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

Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers, because I love the characters and want to spend time with them again before they encounter certain difficulties. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It would be wonderful to come across the remarkably beautiful language in that book again for the first time.

Book you read aloud to someone:

A Theft by Saul Bellow. A boyfriend and I took turns reading it aloud to each other. It was the high point of the relationship. Make of that what you will.

Book Review

Review: The Disaster Tourist

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun, trans. by Lizzie Buehler (Counterpoint, $16.95 paperback, 208p., 9781640094161, August 4, 2020)

Pristine beaches, spectacular landscapes, cultural landmarks might have been the go-to tourist destinations once upon a time, but in Yun Ko-eun's sly, compelling novel, The Disaster Tourist, scenes of death and destruction are where the people really want to go. Global voyeurism is succeeding, with luxurious accommodations, and travelers assuage guilt by volunteering for a few hours during these tightly organized, schadenfreude-fulfilling excursions.

Jungle, where Yona Ko has been working for 10-plus years, is one of these travel providers, "surveying disaster zones and moulding them into travel destinations." As a programming coordinator, Yona is "one of the brains of the company," charged with ferreting out "new and wilier disasters." Her professional success makes her a personal target of Team Leader Kim's sexual abuse. She's not alone--many have come forward--but Human Resources offers nothing more than "This kind of incident happens all the time.... If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." When Yona finally submits her resignation, Kim instead offers her a month-long break, assigning her to evaluate one of the company's less-popular packages.

Yona chooses "Desert Sinkhole," which promises "volcanoes, deserts and hot springs all in the same location." After a full day of airplane-bus-and-boat travel, Yona arrives on the island nation of Mui, joined by a teacher and her young daughter, a writer, a college student and the hired guide. With the new oceanside resort, Belle Époque, as home base, the six explore vestiges of genocide, perilous hazards and continued misfortune. And then it's already time to go home, but on the journey to the airport, Yona gets separated from the group--without her passport, wallet, luggage and only her dying phone. She manages to return to Belle Époque, where the resort manager eventually presents her with a marketing plan to boost Mui's disaster-desirability and thereby save the residents from obscure starvation. Put like that, Yona can hardly refuse, regardless of the fatal damage ahead.

Yun's English-language debut arrives in an agile translation by Lizzie Buehler, who also translated Yun's forthcoming story collection, Tale for One. Spare as her novel may be, Yun methodically confronts the contemporary devolution of humanity through systemic sexism and racism, corporate plundering, the haves' malaise, the have-nots' victimization, the in-betweens' complicity. Her disturbing narrative might initially feel impossibly far-fetched, but Yun skillfully exposes an insatiability both to create and to consume anomalous experiences at any cost. With deft ingenuity, she transforms seeming surreality into chilling reality. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Award-winning Korean writer Yun Ko-eun slyly, compellingly exposes global voyeurism--at any cost--in The Disaster Tourist.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Covid Time, Summertime, Timeless Books

"Think back to life before stay-at-home orders. Does it feel like just yesterday? Or does it seem like ages ago--like some distant era?" Philip Gable asked recently in a piece for the Conversation headlined "The stay-at-home slowdown--how the pandemic upended our perception of time."

Although it takes 23.9 hours for the Earth to make one rotation on its axis, this is not how we experience time, Gable wrote. "Instead, internally, it's often something we feel or sense, rather than objectively measure.... Back in the early days of the pandemic, when it became clear that the virus would upend our everyday lives, it wasn't a stretch to assume that the coming weeks and months would be an emotional roller coaster."

Penguin Bookshop, Sewickly, Pa.

If you felt like time slowed down in the spring, you weren't alone. Gable's research team asked 1,000 Americans how time seemed to be passing during March, with about half of them replying they felt time dragged and a quarter that time passed more quickly than normal. "Whether time slowed or sped up was most closely related to people's emotions," he observed. "Those who reported that they were most nervous or stressed also indicated that time passed more slowly, while those who felt happy or glad tended to experience time passing more quickly. Our findings also revealed that people who tended to experience the slowing of time practiced social distancing more often. So while time slowing down might be an unpleasant side effect of anxiety and avoidance, the behaviors did end up benefiting society."

One might legitimately question how anybody could have felt 'happy" in March, or why 99.9% of respondents didn't tick the "nervous or stressed" box. Clearly Gable's team wasn't checking in with the book trade then.

I'm intrigued by this notion of a Covid-induced time warp. The essence of a bookshop experience for readers used to be slowing down time, wandering through the stacks, exploring nooks, browsing. A sense of time passing dwindled in the presence of bookshelves, as it does in an art museum. First you see the whole work; then move in for a closer look at the spines, scan titles with that signature head-tilt; pull a book from the installation and examine it; sit in a nearby chair and read a passage before returning it to the shelf; step back and see the broader canvas again.

Take your time.

Books waiting to be shipped at Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif.

A bookseller in olden times (before March, say) seldom had the luxury of engaging with their shop that way. Handselling aside, encounters with the books were necessarily more time-pressured and utilitarian--shelving, dusting, straightening, ordering, culling, etc.

As Covid-19 lockdowns spread across the country, photos began popping up on social media of a new normal: the organized chaos of bookstores-as-shipping-centers, with previously quaint sales floor areas awash in cardboard boxes and piles of books. In the heat of the battle that is online/phone orders, curbside pickup and local delivery, time speeds up. 

Curiously enough, I've also noticed a marked increase in the number of booksellers posting wistful, atmospheric, sometimes nostalgic photos of their shops' achingly empty interiors and exteriors, devoid of customers. Despite the horrors of the pandemic and terrible economic side effects, booksellers seem to be taking the time to really look at their spaces from a fresh, if melancholy, perspective.

Thinking about this nudged me toward the time machine of my own bookshelves, where I found a weathered, 20-year-old ARC of J.L. Carr's 1980 novel A Month in the Country (NYRB Classics). Time passing in a troubled world is the essence of this perfect summer read, in which an old man named Tom Birkin gazes back 50 years, with longing and regret, to a golden summer in 1920, when he was hired to uncover a parish church's medieval wall painting in Oxgodby, a small Yorkshire village.

Shell-shocked from his experiences in the trenches during WWI, Birkin's gradual healing process includes a subtle and compelling friendship, edging tentatively toward love, with the vicar's beautiful young wife. He later recalls this as "the missed moment" of his life. But young Birkin is also obsessed with time. Suspended in the present of this magic summer, his mind drifts often to the near past of the war and the distant past of medieval England as symbolized by the wall painting: "Here I was, face to face with a nameless painter reaching from the dark shadow to show me what he could do, saying to me as clear as any words, 'If any part of me survives from time's corruption, let it be this. For this was the sort of man I was.' " The artist's identity is ultimately revealed, sparking contemplation of race, religion and prejudice.

Gable's Covid-19 time perception study found that "happy" respondents experienced time passing more quickly, while "nervous or stressed" folks felt time passed more slowly. Carr's timeless and time-drenched novel transcends such categories: "And this steady rhythm of living and working got into me, so that I felt part of it and had my place, a foot in both present and past; I was utterly content. But I didn't know this until, one day, Alice Keach said, 'You're happy, Mr. Birkin. You're not on edge any more. Is it because the work is going well?'

"Of course she was right. Anyway, partly right."

--Robert Gray, editor

Powered by: Xtenit