Shelf Awareness for Thursday, August 20, 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

James Daunt: 'Amazon Is a Seller of Books; Indies, B&N Are Booksellers'


"I only have ever been a bookseller. Retailers are specialists--the successful ones tend to be. Amazon is not a bookseller, it's a seller of books and there's a distinction between the two. If you know what you want, of course it's exponentially easy to get a book from Amazon. But that isn't what a bookstore does. The two of us, libraries and bookstores, you are completely able to go at your own pace to discover books, and the serendipity of that discovery is a very different experience. That comes naturally to independent bookstores and that's why the people who are there are of central and overriding importance...

"The independents are just really, really good in the United States, and that's where my heart lies. When you're trying to curate a relatively small space, you have created something very magical. There's no one secret there. Each of them has their own secret sauce. I just have to come up with that for hundreds of stores."

--James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble and managing director of Waterstones, in a Retail Dive article "Barnes & Noble Wants to Be a Great Bookseller Again."

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


U.K., Irish Booksellers Facing 'Inflexible Rent Demands,' Amazon Go Openings

According to a recent survey of members of the Booksellers Association of the U.K. and Ireland, independent booksellers across the British Isles are facing issues involving intractable landlords and inflexible rent demands, the Bookseller reported.

Seventy percent of booksellers said they've had problems with their landlords since March, when cities began shutting down in response to the worldwide spread of the coronavirus. The survey results also suggest that the vast majority of landlords are not following the government's Code of Practice, which is a "voluntary set of guidelines designed to encourage commercial tenants and landlords to work together to protect businesses."

In order to survive the pandemic, said Meryl Halls, managing director of the BA, booksellers and other high-street businesses need "landlords to recognize the severity of the current situation and be willing to have open, flexible discussions about repayment plans."

She also warned that the situation could "explode" in September, when the government's debt moratorium ends and struggling retailers are forced to pay. She pointed out that while some stores in suburbs, market towns and villages may be doing relatively well with fewer workers commuting every day, "city center retailers are extremely challenged."

Adding to all of this is concern over the launch of Amazon Go, Amazon's "just walk out" convenience stores. According to the Sunday Times, Amazon has signed deals to open at least 10 Amazon Go locations on high streets around the country, with the first set for London before the end of this year. And beyond those initial 10 stores, the company is reportedly in talks regarding 20 more Amazon Go locations as well as vacant units in shopping centers to be used as bookstores.

"The launch of Amazon Go in the U.K. is yet another significant threat to high street bookselling, and its potential impact on the wider high street cannot be underestimated," said Halls, noting that per the Sunday Times, Amazon is seeking rent-free shopping center spaces.

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

How Bookstores Are Coping: Charitable Campaigns; Sidewalk Browsing

In Brooklyn, N.Y., Books Are Magic has been open for browsing since July 6. Co-owner Michael Fusco-Straub explained that they waited until phase 3 of New York City's reopening plan, just to make sure everything was on track and they weren't about to "backslide back into a shutdown."

Between shutting down in March and reopening in July, the store was essentially a distribution center, and Fusco-Straub said it took a lot of work to clean up the mess and "put everything back together." During the shutdown, he added, Books Are Magic did not lay off anyone and all staff was paid as if they were still coming in for their normal hours. Most of the employees were working from home, doing marketing and events-related things or helping with customer-service issues that arose with so many online orders. For staff members who were coming into the store, Fusco-Straub gave them rides to and from work and provided lunch.

The week of the shutdown, Books Are Magic began selling shirts with the phrase "Stay Safe! Read Books" printed on them. Fifty percent of the proceeds of those shirts went to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation and the other 50% went to Books Are Magic employees. The store has sold more than 1,200 of those shirts so far.

Before reopening, Fusco-Straub and the Books Are Magic team put in plexiglass shields in front of the registers. Masks are mandatory, gloves and hand sanitizer are "everywhere," and capacity has been reduced to allow for better distancing. Employees also have an additional 15-minute break to give them more time off the sales floor. Mask compliance, Fusco-Straub continued, has not been an issue at all.

Like many stores around the country, Books Are Magic saw a huge surge in sales of antiracist books and books by Black authors in late May and early June. The store made lists of antiracist titles for children and adults but experienced some supply issues with particular books. At the peak, Fusco-Straub said, the store was receiving hundreds of orders per day, which was sometimes a challenge.

In response to the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that emerged across the country, Books Are Magic has done two different matching donation campaigns. In the first round, the store raised $15,000 for organizations such as the F2L Fund, the Let Us Breathe Fund and the Emergency Release Fund.

The second campaign is ongoing, and the store is matching up to $10,000 in donations to organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Prisoners' Legal Service of New York and more. And, through Labor Day, the store is donating 20% of proceeds from sales of all the books on its antiracism list to the Antiracist Research & Policy Center.


Stephanie Hochschild, owner of The Book Stall in Winnetka, Ill., reported that her store is not yet open for browsing, but she and her team are in the process of setting up a system for appointment shopping. In the meantime, the store has done a robust business with online orders, curbside pick-up and home delivery. 

There are also a few display tables set up on the sidewalk outside the store and the front windows have been organized for "maximum browsing." A staff member, Hochschild explained, is stationed at the front door Monday-Saturday and handles those sales as well as pick-up. Customers are welcome to call the store or send an e-mail to get handselling recommendations. All of the store's events are now virtual, and Hochschild said she and her team have seen large audiences from around the country for many of those events.

To help keep the staff safe, workstations have been placed far apart from each other and are sanitized each shift. There are arrows on the ground to direct traffic and in advance of limited numbers of customers being in store, Hochschild and her team have set up plexiglass shields around display tables and are reconfiguring shelves to allow for more distancing. Generally speaking, Hochschild added, her customers are good about wearing masks, though sometimes they do need reminders about putting them on when browsing the outdoor tables. --Alex Mutter

Eslite Closing Three More Stores

Eslite, the Taiwan bookstore chain that also has stores in China and Japan, will close three more stores before the end of the year, Taiwan News reported. The retailer has already closed six stores this year, including a location in Taipei City that was reportedly the world's first 24-hour bookstore, and now has about 38 locations.

Two of the three stores slated for closure are located in Taipei, while the third is located in a department store in Zhongli District in Taoyuan. The Zhongli store will be the first to close, on August 23. One of the Taipei stores, which is located in Taipei railway station, will also close before the end of August. The third store will close in late October.

With the exception of one store, all of the locations that Eslite closed this year were smaller locations that "only amounted to 3% of the chain's total earnings," according to Taiwan News.

The company cited the coronavirus pandemic as one of the reasons behind the closures, but also said it would not rule out opening new stores in 2021.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Names Trexler Interim Director

Jeff Trexler has been named interim director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. A lawyer, he was formerly associate director of the Fashion Law Institute, where his work on ethics included advising government officials on sexual harassment legal reform, and he served on the board of the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art. He also provides analysis on legal matters affecting the comics business for industry outlets.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund president Christina Merler said Trexler will use his experience "to cultivate an inclusive, responsive and relevant organization to support our community."

Trexler said, "This is a time of evolution for the organization, and I am honored to be a part of it. To quote from my favorite comic book sequence of all time, the last issue of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol: 'There is another world. There is a better world. Well... there must be.' "


Cool Idea: Tête-á-Tête with a Bookseller

Missing the spontaneity of wandering into a bookstore and discovering something new? While the store is closed to the public, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich., is offering "Tête-á-Tête with a Bookseller," virtual personal shopping appointments "catered specifically to your reading interests." Each 30-minute Zoom appointment costs $25, and the fee goes toward any books you decide to buy, or can be saved as a gift card for future use.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., on Here & Now

NPR's Here & Now: former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., author of Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World (Harper Wave, $29.99, 9780062913296).

The View repeat: Chris Wallace, co-author of Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781982143343).

This Weekend on Book TV: Jeffrey Toobin, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Suzanne Nossel

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, August 22
12 p.m. Book TV explores books about President Trump and the 2020 presidential election. (Re-airs Sunday at 4:55 p.m.)

3 p.m. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard University Press, $15.95, 9780674238145).

4:55 p.m. Jordan Blashek and Christopher Haugh, authors of Union: A Democrat, a Republican, and a Search for Common Ground (Little, Brown, $28, 9780316423793), at Vroman's in Pasadena, Calif. (Re-airs Monday at 1:55 a.m.)

6 p.m. Suzanne Nossel, author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All (Dey Street, $28.99, 9780062966032), at Magic City Books in Tulsa, Okla.

7 p.m. Mike Gonzalez, author of The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics Is Dividing the Land of the Free (Encounter Books, $28.99, 9781641771009). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

Sunday, August 23
1 p.m. Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law, authors of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms (The New Press, $26.99, 9781620973103).

2:45 p.m. Steve Olson, author of The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age (Norton, $27.95, 9780393634976).

3:40 p.m. Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of The Virus in The Age of Madness (Yale University Press, $14, 9780300257373).

9 p.m. Debora MacKenzie, author of COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One (Hachette Books, $27, 9780306924248). (Re-airs Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Jeffrey Toobin, author of True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump (Doubleday, $30, 9780385536738), at A Cappella Books in Atlanta, Ga.

Books & Authors

Dare to Speak: PEN America's Suzanne Nossel on the First Amendment & Free Speech

Shelf Awareness spoke recently with Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, whose new book, Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, was published July 28 by Dey Street Books. In the book, Nossel examines what she calls "a dramatic escalation in conflicts over the permissible bounds of speech" in books, protests, online, in the workplace and the media. Relying on work PEN America has done "to explain how the drive for a more equal, inclusive, and just society can--and must--be reconciled with robust protections for free speech," Dare to Speak offers 20 principles for accomplishing this goal. Here Nossel discusses the debate and how bookstores are affected.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this book is because I have become concerned through our work at PEN America and particularly our work on college campuses that there is a rising antipathy towards the First Amendment and free speech protection in that people see them, in certain instances, as inimical to the drive toward a more equal, inclusive and just society. The scenario in which that comes up the most is concerning hateful speech and the kind of uncorking of and legitimizing of hateful speech that has occurred in our society in recent years. In response, there's been a determination, which I think is very rightful and understandable, by many people to clamp down on and address hate speech. When that's done through counter-speech, condemnations, organizing, that's a very good thing. But it can veer into censoriousness, and sometimes not just for speech that we probably all would agree is manifestly bigoted, but for other speech that's much more debatable.

With booksellers I think it's a slightly different nuance. It's the idea that there are certain books and viewpoints that are inimical to the goal of a more just and equitable society and that by offering those books and making them available, a bookseller is standing in the way of social progress or committing an offense in and of itself simply by the selling those books.

The argument that I make in the book is that we absolutely do need to drive forward to the next level of diversity, equity, inclusivity and justice in our society, but that doing so should not come at the expense of robust protections for free speech because ultimately free speech will help us achieve those goals.

Bookstores are one of a shrinking number of spaces that we have in our society where you really can encounter a wide breadth of viewpoints. That happens less and less on our social media feeds and our cable news stations because they're more and more ideologically defined. I think it's extremely important to have open forums like a bookstore where you can browse around and you may encounter something that you disagree with, but perhaps you'll pick it up and you'll start to read, and you'll learn something, even if that something is how to more effectively rebut and refute the ideas that you reject.

I think it's up to every bookseller to stock as they see fit, and there shouldn't be an effort to impose that judgment collectively. The essential role of the bookseller and the magic of a bookstore is the discernment of a bookseller in choosing what assemblage to put forward.

The idea that someone shouldn't be allowed to special order a book is difficult. You don't know why they want the book. They may be doing important research on a topic where they need to delve deeply into ideologies they reject, so it doesn't necessarily reflect by any means that someone is going down a path towards extremism because they want to partake of a certain line of thinking. If there is a reader who is persistently ordering books about incendiary topics or guides to bomb making, that's a different situation, and that's not what we're talking about here.

It worries me that there would be an effort to impose a kind of orthodoxy from above about what books can and can't be sold. We've seen many instances in the past and to this day of book bannings. It happens particularly in relation to children's books. When you give school boards or parent committees the power, what do they go after? It's overwhelming books with LGBT stories, transgender stories. That power can be used to increase marginalization and enforce the narratives of the powerful. It may be that in a given instance, someone's motivation is the opposite of that. They're trying to expunge what they consider to be hateful. But the minute that booksellers start arbitrating what books are within or outside of bounds, there is that risk that that power will be misused.

There can be this inclination to ask an authority to step in and delineate the boundaries of permissible speech or books that booksellers are allowed to purvey. Ultimately it's a dangerous instinct to afford that power to some higher authority with a great faith that it will be used judiciously. It may not be, and that's why with the First Amendment that we have such tight circumscriptions on the power of government to arbitrate speech because we worry who and how that power will be exercised. The Trump Administration is a great reminder that those worries are not specious.

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, August 25:

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham (Random House, $30, 9781984855022) is a biography of the recently deceased Civil Rights leader and congressman.

Superman's Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It by Erin Brockovich (Pantheon, $28.95, 9781524746964) explores current and imminent problems with America's drinking water.

Squeeze Me: A Novel by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf, $28.95, 9781524733452) takes place in Palm Beach, where a high-society woman is found dead.

The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm by Sarah Frey (Ballantine, $27, 9780593129395) chronicles the founding of a major fresh produce business.

This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire: A Memoir by Nick Flynn (Norton, $25.95, 9781324005544) sifts through the ashes of a childhood arson incident.
The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle between the White House and the Media--from the Founding Fathers to Fake News by Harold Holzer (Dutton, $30, 9781524745264) is a history of mostly negative interactions between reporters and the president.

The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501129018) finds modern wisdom in a long train of great thinkers.

Kamala Harris by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Laura Freeman (Atheneum, $17.99, 9781534462670) is a picture book biography of Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

Traitor: A Novel of World War II by Amanda McCrina (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99, 9780374313524) features two teenage soldiers on the Eastern Front of World War II.

The Warehouse: A Novel by Rob Hart (Ballantine, $17, 9781984823809).

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

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

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears: Stories by Laura van den Berg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 9780374102098). "Laura van den Berg's new collection of stories, one of the most unique I've read in recent years, navigates a space between the outer and inner world and takes unexpected turns that, like her novel, The Third Hotel, seem to bring in aesthetics of literature outside our time and place to tell stories that are very much grounded in our present. These stories are thrilling, timeless, and get better when you reread them. I've read 'Hill of Hell' more than five times by now." --Fernando Flores, Malvern Books, Austin, Tex.

Flyaway: A Novella by Kathleen Jennings (Tor, $19.99, 9781250260499). "I've never read anything quite like this book. The prose is confident--it's like an iron backbone on which strange and beautiful flowers grow. Jennings' use of syntax is utterly unique. Words that should bump and snap at each other instead morph and burst into unforgettable sentences. This is a... fairy tale? An allegory? A murder mystery? I'm not entirely sure. It doesn't matter. Trying to categorize this wonderful novel would be like putting a unicorn into a horse box. It wouldn't fit and the horn would shatter the wood. Best to leave it unbound and wild, admire it for what it is, and wonder at what it's not." --Aimee Keeble, Main Street Books, Davidson, N.C.

The Disaster Tourist: A Novel by Yun Ko-Eun, trans. by Lizzie Buehler (Counterpoint, $16.95, 9781640094161). "This book is about every sort of disaster that can happen: ecological, economic, social, moral, and even the unexpected. When Yona, a designer of 'disaster tours' for a travel company, is forced to go on a business trip to a remote island, she gets caught up with making a disaster of her own. This book brilliantly peels back the layers of ecotourism, capitalism, and all the ways we are complicit in creating catastrophes. A shocking, thought-provoking book that's also a great read." --Dan Schwartz, Changing Hands, Phoenix, Ariz.

Ages 4 to 8
The Starkeeper by Faith Pray (Random House, $17.99, 9781984892706). "What a gorgeously illustrated book about the power of kindness! This book shows kids that no matter how small or inexperienced, they are able to effect real and important change in our world just by being kind." --Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, Bookseller, Savannah, Ga.

Ages 9 to 12
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (Margaret K. McElderry, $17.99, 9781534462762). "Hilary McKay is a funny, heart-grabbing, rollicking master of middle-grade family stories. If you love books like The Penderwicks or The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, The Time of Green Magic is your next favorite. In this story, McKay blends the complications of a big, new blended family, a wondrous house, and magic that may be a little more dangerous than anyone expects at first." --Alex Schaffner, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass.

For Teen Readers
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Philomel, $18.99, 9781984812261). "This tale will grab you, get under your fingernails, and not let go, so vivid is the story of these three friends on a harrowing journey to save themselves. This story is ripped from the headlines and extraordinary in its depiction of kids running from their country's violence, depredation, and hopelessness. The sometimes-unspeakable events are also tempered with the hope and humanity of kind people along the way. Traveling from Honduras to the promised land of the U.S., your eyes will be opened and your heart will plead for our nation to see these children and treat them with compassion." --Maureen Palacios, Once Upon a Time, Montrose, Calif.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War

The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War by David Nasaw (Penguin Press, $35 hardcover, 672p., 9781594206733, September 15, 2020)

The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War sheds light on what to many readers will be an unfamiliar legacy of the Second World War. David Nasaw, author of sweeping biographies such as Andrew Carnegie, provides a characteristically thorough and impressively researched account of the roughly one million displaced persons who found themselves stranded in Germany after the end of the war. After millions of forced laborers and POWs were repatriated, the Allied nations overseeing chunks of war-ravaged Germany were left with the problem of those who refused repatriation or had no home to return to. These Last Million included concentration camp survivors, Eastern Europeans whose lands had been occupied or annexed by the Soviet Union, Nazi collaborators and outright war criminals. As the allied countries decided what to do with these displaced persons (DPs), they were housed in what were meant to be temporary camps that over years transformed into island communities.

The Last Million became an international issue, pawns in the burgeoning Cold War, and much of Nasaw's book concerns the political wrangling that eventually led to the resettlement of the Last Million in countries all over the world. While delving into the weeds of political compromise and legislation, Nasaw never loses sight of the hopes and struggles of the people at the center. Nasaw captures the stories of dozens of DPs and their families, and provides a vibrant account of the displaced persons camps' transformation into mini-nations with their own schools, houses of worship and complex politics. In Nasaw's account, many of the camps became incubators for nationalism, including Eastern Europeans from nations dominated by the Soviets, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Jews who became convinced that "there was only one, just one salvation... Palestine."

The Last Million showcases Nasaw's deft handling of complexity--not only the number of global controversies that the Displaced Persons issue fed into, but the morally complex issues of collaboration. Many DPs had served in SS units and participated in the murder of Jews, but some had been drafted into military units under threat or performed innocuous administrative tasks. Sadly, Nasaw's account is one where moral questions were often coopted by political convenience, with nations such as the United States eventually letting in hundreds of war criminals. The Last Million becomes an account of new beginnings, sometimes for people who didn't deserve them. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Shelf Talker: The Last Million meticulously follows the fate of the approximately one million displaced persons stranded in Germany after World War II, including concentration camp survivors and war criminals.

Powered by: Xtenit