Shelf Awareness for Friday, August 7, 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

'Community Is Vital!'

Eileen Dengler
Linda-Marie Barrett

"Community is vital! It's always been a goal of these shows to give our booksellers skills to help them make their businesses successful, and access to new books and products that they will want to sell. Those goals haven't changed, but this year I think there is an added one: to bring our bookstores through the pandemic and begin feeling excited about the future. It seems like a long way away right now--everything is so volatile and uncertain. But we also need books and literature more than ever. That hasn't changed, it has become more important. And I think our bookstores know it and want to be there for their communities."

--SIBA executive director Linda-Marie Barrett, who joined NAIBA executive director Eileen Dengler for a q&a about New Voices New Rooms, the upcoming joint SIBA/NAIBA virtual show

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


Bluestocking Social Bookstore Opening in Evansville, Ind.


Bluestocking Social bookstore will host its grand opening celebration tomorrow at 606 B South Weinbach Ave. in Evansville, Ind. The Courier & Press reported that if "the old adage of 'location, location, location' holds true, a new independent bookstore near the University of Evansville campus should be solidly in position for potential customers to find their way inside."

"Bookstores and coffee shops tend to go together pretty well," said co-owner Annie Adelman, whose new bookshop is in the same building as Honey Moon Coffee. "Being so close to UE should be good for us. I think it's a great spot.... We had noticed for a while that Evansville hasn't really had an independent, local bookstore since Book Nook went out of business. So it was always something we had in the back of our minds."

Adelman and Matt Fitzpatrick are partners in the venture, which had originally been planned to start as a mobile shop. "But then this space became available; it was kind of perfect and just made sense," Fitzpatrick said. "And we realized it would probably be cheaper to do it this way. So we just went for it."

In addition to books, Bluestocking Social will carry art supplies, gifts and greeting cards. Fitzpatrick added: "We want to have materials for just about any medium and materials that I would use myself, good-quality things, and a wide variety of things. We hope the artists that come in here will give us some input on what they want us to carry, and anything we don't have in stock, we can order it and have it here fast....

"We want to host book signings and readings, other local author events. We're looking into doing some open mic nights, hosting book clubs and things like that. Mainly we just want to be part of this community of people and be a place they can come and feel like it's their own."

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

International Update: Beirut Bookseller on Tragic Blast; Book Trade Charity's Hardship Grants

Niamh Fleming-Farrell, an Irish woman who runs Aaliya's Books and has lived in Beirut, Lebanon, since 2009, told RTÉ radio's News at One that she had been knocked unconscious by the deadly, tragic and ferocious blast Tuesday in the city's port, less than a kilometer from her bookshop/café. Although the business was closed due to Covid-19 lockdown, she and a friend were in the store at the time and escaped with relatively minor injuries. The explosion, however, ripped off all the doors and windows and caused extensive damage.

"You don’t understand the scale of it. This time the damage is not local. It's half the city," she said. "There is not a door left, there's not a pane of glass intact. Thank goodness we weren't open. If we had been full of customers, there could have been serious injuries. We're very grateful there was no one here but us.... We're in the middle of an economic crisis and a pandemic. There is [a] very challenging time ahead."

Aaliya's Books after the blast.

Yesterday, Aaliya's Books Facebook page had an update: "Like almost half the city, our beloved Aaliya's Books took quite a beating on Tuesday evening. But, much as @naila.h.r.saba, @william.t.dobson and I (@niamhflemingfarrell) love the shop, it is only bricks, mortar and (now twisted) metal and (shattered) glass. Aaliya's true essence is in none of those material things; it is in you, who came to us as customers and staff and promptly became our friends, family and community. We are so grateful that so many of you came though this explosion physically unscathed, and we send sympathy and wishes for speedy healing to those who did sustain injuries. We are here for any and all of you if you need us. Just reach out.

"We were also overwhelmed by the number of staff and friends who came by yesterday with love and hugs and to help us begin the long clean up. Your generosity of spirit and labor is salve for so much upset, pain and anxiety. At this point, in this mad 12 months in #Beirut, the only thing we can say for sure about the future is that it will be challenging. But, we're also confident our community will endure and, with that unique form of obstinacy born of adversity, very hopeful Aaliya's will reopen before too long."


In the U.K., the Book Trade Charity has distributed £112,000 (about $140,350) in hardship grants "from funds raised by the trade, but it expects applicants to keep coming forward until the end of the year as the effects of Covid-19 are felt," the Bookseller reported. In April, a successful fundraising push was set up by Gayle Lazda of the London Review Bookshop, Picador commissioning editor Kishani Widyaratna and Daunt Books publisher Zeljka Marosevic.

Charity CEO David Hicks said 60 grants, ranging from around £600 (about $750) to £4,000 (about $5,010) have been given out, with most of the money going to individual booksellers, though some shops unable to reopen have also received money, as well as some ex-Bertrams staff following the firm's closure.

"Generally it was people who were suddenly without any income at all or on £70-odd a week from Universal Credit but still had their mortage to pay, their rent to pay, or just had to put food on the table," Hicks said. "Certainly when the furlough scheme ends but also when shops go back and find that their trade is not what it was and they can't justify keeping on as many staff, they're going to be letting people go. So we're estimating that until the end of the year, we're going to be dealing with these applications. I would encourage anyone who's in a difficult situation now to contact us because we've still got funds to give." --Robert Gray

Normal Books in Athens, Ga., Closes

Normal Books in Athens, Ga., a general-interest bookstore with a focus on remaindered titles, has closed. Owners Mary and Chris Eaton officially shut the doors for the last time on July 20.

"We thank you for your past support and hope you can come by before we close the doors," they wrote in a Facebook post announcing the decision. "Again, many thanks to those of you who have helped us keep the doors open. We wish for you peace, health and happiness."

The Eatons opened Normal Books in 2017, in a storefront that once housed a paint and hardware store. Prior to opening their own store, both had had careers in bookselling. In addition to books, the store sold calendars, stocking stuffers and Mary Eaton's artwork.

Normal Books also had a close relationship with the Athens Writers Association. The store hosted AWA public readings and devoted shelf space to books by writers in the association. Jill Hartmann-Roberts, a member of the AWA, wrote of Chris and Mary Eaton: "They were our partners in every way--the extraordinary and anything but 'normal' Normal Bookstore."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Tough Transitions; Increased Sales; New Location

In East Sandwich, Mass., Titcomb's Bookshop reopened to the public on June 15 after being closed since March 23. Owner Vicky Titcomb reported that things are going well so far, with new manager Ellen Speers having overseen the reopening. 

No more than eight customers are allowed in the bookshop at a time and, using money that they received from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, Titcomb and Speers installed hand sanitizer stations throughout the store. They also ordered an acrylic barrier from Clear Solutions to help protect staff working behind the counter. The store is still offering curbside pickup for customers who would prefer not enter.

Titcomb noted that her store can feel like a maze, so allowing for social distancing has been a bit tricky. Speers and the bookstore team have removed the display tables around the front desk and, when the weather cooperates, they open the French doors at the front of the store to increase air circulation. The staff has set up tables with bestselling books under a tent outside the store, so customers can start browsing before they enter or have something to do while waiting for other customers to leave. Titcomb said she's experienced no difficulties with shoppers refusing to wear masks, whether they be locals or tourists.

One challenging aspect of the reopening, she said, is that the majority of her senior staff have not returned to working in-store due to health concerns. She added that like all booksellers that have managed to stay in business during the pandemic, she and her team "have been working to the point of exhaustion to turn our business on a dime" from a traditional browsing and handselling experience to an online business to a mixture of the two.

With in-person events canceled for the foreseeable future, Titcomb and her team are working on ways to connect to customers. These include more virtual events with authors around the world and sending out store newsletters with increased frequency. They are also adjusting the store's inventory to better suit their new customers, with more titles added in Titcomb's nonfiction, literary fiction, current events, romance and science fiction sections.

On the subject of the nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality that began in late May, Titcomb said the store has seen a huge increase in customers wanting to be more informed about race in the United States. As such, Titcomb's has greatly expanded its selection of books on race and racism, and created displays of those titles for adults and children.


Karen Bakshoian, owner of Letterpress Books in Portland, Maine, said her store began offering browsing appointments on June 9. Within a week, due to customer demand and feeling comfortable enough to do so, Letterpress reopened for walk-in browsing. Initially Bakshoian and her staff, who are all family members, allowed only two customers in at a time, but now they've increased that to three.

There are now plexiglass shields around the cash wrap, distancing guidelines taped onto the floor and hand sanitizer available at the door. There's been almost no pushback against the store's mask requirements, with only a handful of people complaining so far. She added that her customers are "totally on board" with the requirements, even when they have to wait for 15 minutes or so for others to clear out.

"Our community has been really supportive throughout this crisis and we are so grateful," she said.

The good news, Bakshoian continued, is that the store is seeing increased sales despite being open shorter hours. Customers have told her they think the store must be doing well because people are reading more, but in fact regular customers have been making a noticeable effort to keep the place in business. They are buying stacks of books, gift cards for friends or themselves and care packages for relatives. Lately they've also been buying books to be donated to school libraries, particularly antiracist titles. On that note, she added, the store has made prominent displays of antiracist titles for both children and adults.


Cheryl Lee

44th & 3rd Booksellers in Atlanta, Ga., closed its location in the city's Little Five Points neighborhood in April. The decision, explained owner Cheryl Lee, was not because of the coronavirus pandemic but because the business went into negotiations for a new location in a different part of Atlanta, near the campuses of Morehouse and Spelman.

After protests began earlier in the summer, 44th & 3rd was featured on lists of Black-owned bookstores to support that were circulated widely on social media. The response, Lee reported, was amazing. Her store did not actually have an online sales platform until May, and it seemed like "as soon as our website was launched, orders started coming in and have not stopped." Needless to say, she and her staff have been very busy keeping up with demand but are "loving it. We are extremely excited that so many people are supporting our businesses and we hope that it continues."

Lee added that she and her team hope to open in the new location in October. --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Ruth Weiss

Ruth Weiss, once called a "Beat Generation Goddess" by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, "was a working poet for more than 70 years, still writing and reciting right up until her death" on July 31, the Chronicle reported. She was 92. Weiss "may not have invented what came to be known as 'jazz poetry,' but she is credited with introducing it to San Francisco, when she came west from Chicago, by way of New Orleans, in 1952 as the vanguard of the San Francisco Renaissance."

"Some people regard Ruth as the mother of the Beats," said Jack Hirschman, emeritus poet laureate of San Francisco. "She wrote in jazz rhythms and her work was fundamentally experimental. All the other poets had great respect for her."

The Chronicle noted that until the arrival of Diane di Prima in the late 1960s, Weiss "was often the only woman on the North Beach circuit, and she was the first Beat poet, man or woman, to read to the accompaniment of live jazz, according to Jerry Cimino, Beat historian and founder of the Beat Museum in North Beach."

"Jazz was the scene in the late 1940s and early '50s, so by combining her poetry with jazz, Ruth created a whole new performance art," he said. "When you see it with the drama and the force of the music, it brings (the poetry) to life.... Kerouac got all the credit, but the accepted understanding in San Francisco is that Ruth was performing her words to music even before Jack was doing it."

Steps, the first of her 20 books of poetry, was not released until 1958, and consisted of 50 mimeographed pages. She "was mostly self-published throughout her career and her name was always listed as ruth weiss, lower case, the way she preferred it," the Chronicle wrote. Her other works include Can't Stop the Beat: The Life and Words of a Beat Poet and Desert Journal.

Melody Miller, a close friend and director of the documentary film ruth weiss: the beat goddess (2019), recalled: "When I first saw her perform, I was stuck to my seat, mesmerized. I thought, 'Who is this woman with the teal hair and this tiara crown and dragon necklace, talking in this husky voice?' " Miller added: "Her poems are her children and her life's legacy, and that will continue her line. It is up to her fans to keep her legacy alive."


'Behind the Scenes' Video at Harriett's Bookshop

Harriett's Bookshop, Philadelphia, Pa., shared a 'behind the scenes" video filmed by Wendell Holland, founder and chief designer at Beve Unlimited, a custom furniture company specializing in reclaimed wood (as well as the winner of CBS TV's Survivor: Ghost Island in 2018). Beve Unlimited had just delivered a new book bar/reception desk to Harriett's.



Curbside Larry's 'Crazy Book Deals' at the Library

"While our building is closed to the public, we are still providing services to the community," the Barbara Bush Branch Library, Spring, Tex., noted in sharing a funny video featuring Crazy Larry's Crazy Curbside Service: "And what's all this cost? Just three low payments of zero, zero, zero dollars! It's crazy how much you get for free!"

Personnel Changes at Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull

At Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull:

Lena Moses-Schmitt is being promoted from publicity manager to senior publicity manager.

Sarah Jean Grimm is being promoted from publicity manager to senior publicity manager.

Media and Movies

TV: Untamed

J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot has acquired the rights "in a competitive situation" to adapt Glennon Doyle's memoir Untamed, Deadline reported. Jessie Nelson (Little Voice) will exec produce alongside Doyle and Bad Robot's head of television, Ben Stephenson. Momastery founder Doyle will co-write the first episode.

Doyle said: "Untamed has sold over one million copies worldwide in fewer than 20 weeks and ignited a movement because women are in a collective moment of reckoning: We are looking at existing models of marriage, parenthood, religion, business, sexuality, and politics--and deciding that it's time to let the old burn and imagine truer, more beautiful lives for ourselves, and a more equitable world for all of us. I can't imagine a more important time or more perfect partners than Jessie Nelson and Bad Robot to help bring my story, our collective story, to television."

Nelson added: "It's rare to come upon a story that has at its center such a powerful, messy, honest, wholly original female character. So I am thrilled to be working with my partners Bad Robot, Warner Bros. and Glennon Doyle to tell her story--as it constantly reminds us that being human is not hard because you're doing it wrong. It's hard because you're doing it right. You can't change the fact that life is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy."

Books & Authors

Awards: Harriet Tubman Finalists

The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has announced three finalists for the 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize, which awards $7,500 to the best nonfiction book published in the U.S. on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World. The winner will be named in November. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home by Richard Bell (S&S)
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers (Yale University Press)
Standard-Bearers of Equality: America's First Abolition Movement by Paul J. Polgar (University of North Carolina Press)

"The uprisings this year and the renewed attention on Black history, our stories, and racial justice make these books essential reads for anyone who wishes to expand their knowledge of transatlantic slavery and its enduring legacies," said Dr. Michelle Commander, associate director and curator of the Lapidus Center.

Reading with... Edmund White

photo: Andrew Fladeboe

Edmund White is the author of many novels, including A Boy's Own StoryThe Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Farewell Symphony, Our Young Man and most recently A Saint from Texas (Bloomsbury, August 4, 2020). His nonfiction includes City Boy, Inside a PearlThe Unpunished Vice and other memoirs; The Flâneur, about Paris; and literary biographies and essays. He was named the 2018 winner of the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction and received the National Book Foundation's 2019 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

On your nightstand now:

Elizabeth Bowen's Collected Stories. Her late story "Mysterious Kor" is glorious.

During the pandemic, I've been Skyping every day with Yiyun Li; we're reading books together. We just finished Rebecca West's The Birds Fell Down.

Favorite book when you were a child:

A book that a friend gave me in second grade about the lost dauphin that I've never been able to identify.

Your top five authors:

Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Bowen, Colette, Proust and Alan Hollinghurst

Book you've faked reading:

The Faerie Queene

Book you're an evangelist for:

Henry Green's Nothing

Book you've bought for the cover:

Anything in the Pléiade

Book you hid from your parents:

All books from my father. If he caught me reading, he'd give me a chore to do.

Book that changed your life:

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. I was 14 and lonely as hell in our Michigan summer house and chanced upon this book, which showed me it was okay--or at least possible--to be gay.

Favorite line from a book:

"There are people who would never have been in love, had they never heard love spoken of." --La Rochefoucauld's Maxims

Five books you'll never part with:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Flower Beneath the Foot by Ronald Firbank
Nothing by Henry Green
The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

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

The stories in Joy Williams's Honored Guest.

Book Review

Review: Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault (St. Martin's Press, $27.99 hardcover, 368p., 9781250155931, September 1, 2020)

The tiny town of Mexico, Maine, is one only a native could love. But for all the affection she expresses for her roots there, critic Kerri Arsenault writes anything but a love letter in Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains. Instead, in an imposing work of narrative nonfiction that blends memoir with ecological exposé and socioeconomic analysis, she painstakingly, and often painfully, lays bare the tragedy that has stalked the town's hardworking and plucky, but ultimately exploited, citizens.

At the heart of Arsenault's story--the product of more than a decade of investigation--is the paper mill located across the Androscoggin River from Mexico, in the larger town of Rumford. Opened in 1902 and specializing in the production of coated paper for glossy magazines, the plant provided employment to three generations of Arsenault's family, descended from the proud Acadians, French Catholics who migrated to the area from the Canadian Maritime provinces in the 18th century.

But as Arsenault reveals, the foul odor that persistently blanketed the town--a stench locals like her mother referred to as the "smell of money"--was an ill wind. That smell, along with the massive amounts of toxics dumped into the river (estimated at one point to equal the industrial discharge from a city of more than two million people), triggered concerns about an alarming number of cancer cases that earned the region the unwanted title of "Cancer Valley." One of those victims was Arsenault's father, who died in 2014 after working in the paper mill for 45 years.

Mill Town recounts Arsenault's dogged, frustrating search for evidence that might link the death of her father and others conclusively to the mill's environmental misdeeds. As she follows that frequently dead-ending path, she interviews friends and family, along with medical and scientific experts, consumes volumes of technical literature and pores over piles of sometimes impenetrable documents. The aridity of much of that journey is tempered by Arsenault's perceptive reflections on the gravitational pull of home, despite all its obvious shortcomings, and the rootedness of life there when compared to her own peripatetic existence as the wife of a Coast Guard member. She recognizes that "leaving home can be as complicated as living there and as inescapable as our own DNA."

Arsenault's account is enlivened by vivid prose, often coolly analytical and yet deeply lyrical. Mexico's melancholy story--one that's mirrored today in thousands of struggling small towns across the U.S.--comes to life in Arsenault's sympathetic, but unfailingly clear-eyed, telling. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Kerri Arsenault unearths the painful story of Mexico, Maine, the small mill town where she grew up.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: 'The Dream Is Still Alive!'--A Timeline

In my first column of 2020, I shared optimistic social media posts from several independent booksellers looking forward to the new year, ending with a succinct line from Next Page Books, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: "2020. It's gonna be big." A lot of us felt that way, even as late as the end of January when we gathered in Baltimore for Wi15.

Cue the Covid-19 pandemic plot twist.

It's the nature of social media to offer snapshots, but this week I decided to paste a few of them in a virtual album to get a sense of how the business-not-as-usual timeline has unfolded over the past few months. Since Next Page Books and owner Bart Carithers provided my opening headline for 2020, I returned to his store's Facebook page for perspective. Here's a glimpse:

In January, bookshop cat Frank was still "on the lookout for customers, dogs, and birds, but not necessarily in that order."

March 5: "Happy begins here."

March 16: "The coronavirus (Covid-19) is creating unexpected challenges for all of us, and we understand folks' uncertainty about what may happen in the days and weeks ahead.... We plan to remain open until such time businesses are asked or required to close temporarily.... At times like these it's doubly important to support all small, locally owned businesses. We encourage everyone to help raise awareness about the critical need to shop and eat local. As a community, we'll weather the storm and come out on the other side stronger and more resilient than ever. Be safe and remain positive."

March 18: "Out of an abundance of caution, the store will close at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 22 and remain closed through Wednesday, April 15.... Owning this bookstore has fulfilled a life-long dream. I sincerely appreciate everyone who has supported me and the store over the past four years. I hope I can continue to rely on your support should the store be able to reopen when this crisis has ended. In the meantime, be healthy, happy, and safe. As I tell the books each night at closing, 'I love you all.' "

March 23: "Our first curbside pickup! We have officially entered a new age."

March 27: "The outpouring of support you have shown the store these past few weeks has been humbling and I'm not sure how to adequately repay you for your kindness. Please know that I am sincerely grateful. For now, be safe and stay healthy. We'll get through this!"

April 7: "A benefit of being a bookstore delivery guy. Seriously, I may have found my calling."

April 10: "The masked man rides again bringing books to a neighborhood near you! Hi-Ho Silver (Honda), away!"

April 16: "Our transition from being a cozy walk-in bookstore with over the counter sales to one that only takes orders online or on the phone has been awkward, at best, but we've managed to make it work. Thank you, friends, for your patience as we muddle through this new way of doing business."

April 27: "Well, this turned out better than expected."

May 2: "Our lifeline. Thanks FedEx, UPS, and USPS for keeping everything moving. We couldn't stay in business without you!"

May 7: "Uh-oh, you may want to coax me off my soapbox. The governor declared retail businesses may reopen at 50% capacity effective Friday, May 8. Next Page Books will reopen once it appears safe and prudent to do so. The decision will be based on advice from health care professionals, not politicians."

May 13: "No one can predict the future but we're hoping for the best. Thanks, everyone, for sticking with us. On our corner of the world, it's a marathon and not a race to reopen."

May 15: "Oh, we get by with a little help from our friends. Thanks to Heidi Ipsan, owner of The DAISY--crazy daisy in Czech Village, we'll have an awesome countertop screen for when we eventually reopen. While you can't tell from the photo, there is a sheet of plexiglass in the frame. Really."

May 30: "My memoir will be titled Treading Water and the cover will look something like this, only better."

June 12: "Nope. Not going to do it. Not yet. Despite the governor's decree allowing retail stores to fully reopen, for the time-being we will remain closed to walk-in traffic."

June 23: "I've made the decision to reopen the store on Friday, June 26 after being closed to walk-in traffic for three full months. This was not an easy decision to make. Please rest assured that every precaution necessary will be taken to ensure the store remains a safe and healthy space to shop."

June 25: "If we learned anything during the 'pandemic closure' it was that a small business like ours had to evolve in order to survive. We adapted rather quickly and, thanks to all of you, managed to stay in business.... You kept this little shop afloat and I am forever in your debt. I love our customers, and I love this town!"

June 26: "Here we go!"

June 30: "It's the right thing to do."

July 20: "The dream is still alive!"

July 24: "We promised to increase inventory and, boy oh boy, did we deliver. And more books are on the way!"

July 25: "This is how it's done at Next Page Books and our customers make it look so easy."

August 1: "Let's go!"

--Robert Gray, editor

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