Shelf Awareness for Friday, August 21, 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


Boston's I AM Books Closing Physical Store

Founded in 2015, I AM Books, the Italian-American bookstore and cultural hub in the North End of Boston, Mass., is closing its bricks-and-mortar store but will continue to operate online.

Owners Nicola Orichuia and Jim Pinzino said in a letter to customers that "the past several months have taken a huge toll on our small business, and the uncertainty of the next several months due to the Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible for us to renew our lease.

"However, this isn't 'addio,' or farewell, but 'arrivederci,' or 'see you again.' We look forward to the times when we'll feel completely safe meeting in closed spaces, hugging friends not seen in months, and shaking hands with new ones. And who knows, perhaps to an even better I AM Books down the road."

They noted that the store was beginning to feel small and "we were starting to consider growing into something bigger, more spacious.... That bigger space is a dream for now, but so was I AM Books before we launched it."

Orichuia and Pinzino are focusing on growing their online bookstore and virtual presence. "We have always strongly believed in our mission: to provide a space for people to discover the intersection between Italy and the United States. We will make sure that our online presence carries on the important work done within the walls of 189 North St., and to lay the foundation for the I AM Books of the future. We have made numerous improvements to our online store this summer and will be growing our online footprint over the coming months. We want to become your one-stop shop for all the best that Italian and Italian American publishing have to offer."

I AM Books sells primarily fiction and nonfiction by Italian and Italian American authors, books in Italian, as well as cookbooks and books on travel, history, sports, Italian American studies and titles by local authors. The store also has a children's section offering books, learning materials, games and toys. It has hosted author events, poetry readings, social gatherings, art exhibits, film screenings, musical concerts, theatrical performances, book clubs, children's readings, workshops and language classes, "sometimes cramming more than 50 people in a space that probably shouldn't hold more than 15! We did pop-ups across the state, worked our tails off at our little book corner at Eataly Boston, and started a two-day literary and cultural festival that we did again the following year! And, of course, we made friends from near and far who visited the North End as visitors from other cities and countries and found themselves in front of a small bookstore from another world entirely."

I AM Books is planning a farewell event on Saturday, September 12 (rain date is the following day). "People can stop by outside our doors to say bye, to pick up their online orders, and receive some goodies!"

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

New Orleans's Tubby & Coo's Deals with Store Flood

Last week, Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop in New Orleans, La., was flooded after a pipe burst in the ceiling of its new location (which the store moved into earlier this summer). Owner Candice Huber wrote that the store lost many boxes of books that were still on the floor, as well as all of its brand-new bookshelves, many of its rental board games and "much of our sanity."

Flooding damaged the floor and new bookshelves.

Huber is in the process of salvaging and repairing and still plans to reopen eventually for browsing in the new location. The floors have already been ripped up and are being replaced, and some work may need to be done on the walls to mitigate mold. In the meantime, the store will still operate on a limited basis. New pick-up orders have been suspended, but the store is offering shipping as well as offering free local delivery on orders of $40 or more.

They noted that the best way to help right now is for customers to buy books or a gift card, or donate to the store's virtual tip jar. "There's a lot to do, and even though insurance will eventually cover things, we don't know how long that will take, and we would love the cash now to get new bookshelves," Huber wrote.

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

How Bookstores Are Coping: Cautious Reopening; Altered Roles

Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., reopened for browsing on July 5, owner Lisa Baudoin reported. The store's hours are reduced and only 10 customers are allowed in at any one time. Baudoin said hers was the last business to reopen to the public in her strip mall, and probably one of the last in the community as a whole. It was a tough decision to make, she continued, as cases were still rising in Wisconsin, but website orders and phone orders had slowed to the point that she "needed to change course."

The reopening process took several weeks, involving lots of research and conversation about how to transform the store from a warehouse to a safe browsing space. Baudoin and her team eliminated the store's seating, expanded the front counter, added more space between the shelves and drastically altered the store's flow. They created a separate lunch space by using the store's magazine shelving, rearranged staff workstations and made their bathrooms staff-only.

Booksellers Toni and Chloe welcome customers back to Books & Company.

Masks are required for anyone who enters the store, and Books & Company has disposable masks for those who haven't brought their own. Baudoin said customers were happy just to be back in the store, even if they had to wear masks, and, in fact, social distancing for both customers and booksellers has been trickier. She and her team are "used to handselling in a particular way," and it "almost feels rude" to keep stepping away from customers. People aren't standing right next to each other, she added, but the six feet of space "ebbs and flows a bit more than I anticipated."

There has been much less resistance to masks than Baudoin expected, but it has occurred, both online and in store. Still, far more people have expressed appreciation for the mask requirement than pushed against it.

When protests began around the country in late May and early June, Books & Company was still closed to the public. During that time, Baudoin and her booksellers changed every book in the store's windows to books by Black authors and illustrators. Despite it being a "subdued way" of letting people know where the store stood, it did start some very good conversations with community members.

The store continues to have antiracist reading lists for children and adults on its website and its newsletters have featured antiracist titles as well as books by diverse authors. There's been a small amount of pushback, Baudoin said, but the majority of customers and community members have been grateful.


In Hockessin, Del., Hockessin BookShelf reopened for browsing in late May. Owner Rebecca Dowling explained that the store is mostly doing appointment shopping while trying to accommodate walk-ins when possible. The store is less than 1,000 square feet, so the store is allowing only two or three shoppers in at a time. Dowling and her team have also made it a point to schedule family units separately, so that they can have the whole store to themselves when they browse.

Staff members wipe down the front counter between appointments and booksellers use hand sanitizer before every transaction. Customers are asked to use hand sanitizer when they arrive at the front door, while a staff member goes over the store's guidelines. Instead of reshelving books while browsing, customers are encouraged to place books they've decided not to buy in baskets around the store. Those books are then sanitized by staff and reshelved at the end of the day, during the store's two-hour cleaning and restocking period.

Hockessin BookShelf sells both new and used books. Dowling said her store acquires its used book inventory from customers, on a trade-for-credit model. Dowling and her team have modified this process so that customers can bring in no more than 10 books per visit, and traded-in books are held for 72 hours before a bookseller processes them into the system.

Dowling noted that early on in the summer, there was some confusion and frustration about the store's mask policy and requirements, but now it is pretty limited. The team does occasionally have to ask customers to wear their masks over their noses while in store. Dowling jokingly added that she and her team are now: "booksellers, bouncers, public service announcers."

The store has dedicated an area to antiracist titles and books about social justice. Dowling has also been working with book groups and civic organizations to help get them the books they need for their discussions. She noted: "We've been working hard in the last few years to be very conscious when ordering that we have a diverse selection of books and will continue our efforts."


Christine Patrick, owner of Winchester Book Gallery in Winchester, Va., said her shop has been open throughout the pandemic. For the first month or so, the store was operating on shortened hours, but Patrick and her team expanded them again to almost normal by the beginning of June. The state required Winchester Book Gallery to have no more than 10 people in store at any given time, which they've been able to do.

Masks are required and hand sanitizer is available. Patrick explained that they've been "really lucky" to have an understanding customer base that is very willing to wear masks and maintain safe distancing. Patrick also reported that her store set up a significant Black Lives Matter display in the front room, which was very well received. She noted that the store supported a BLM demonstration in Winchester and the store has sold "hundreds of books" related to the movement.

Obituary Note: Jennifer Breen

Jennifer Breen, the social worker and feminist academic who edited "volumes celebrating neglected women's poetry and prose," died at the age of 83, the Guardian reported.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Breen earned a degree in humanities from the University of Melbourne and was a social worker before moving to London in 1964. She continued her social work there while working toward a postgraduate degree in psychiatric social work at the Tavistock Institute.

In the 1970s, she began design courses in women's literature for trainee social workers at North London Polytechnic. She did such a good job that by 1979, she was overseeing an entire spectrum of courses on women's literature for the department of language and literature. At the time of her retirement in 2002, she was in charge of both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in women's literature.

Throughout her time at North London Polytechnic she published several collections of neglected poetry and prose writing by women. According to the Guardian, her personal favorite of these was In Her Own Write, a selection of 20th-century fiction written by women.

While doing all this she earned a Ph.D. in literature at the University of London, and her thesis on Wilfred Owen eventually led to her publishing a collection of Owen's poetry and prose. She also was the force behind annotated anthologies of women Romantic poets and Victorian women's poetry, among others.

In 2016, Breen focused on writing fiction of her own, a series of interlinked short stories based on her early life in Australia. The lead story in that collection, "The Pity of It," was published in London magazine in 2017; a complete collection of those stories will be published at a later date.


Bookstore Window of the Day: Well~Read Moose

The Well~Read Moose Bookstore in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, shared its newest store window painting: Books Are Magic! The image features the store's moose mascot in five different scenes from some favorite books (Magic Tree House, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Sword in the Stone and Narnia). Marketing assistant Anna Rose Carleton said, "We hope this window painting brings joy to our customers as it does us--books truly are magical!" 

Harvard Square Bookstores Adjust to 2020

Bookstores in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., are among the many retailers and restaurants/bars/cafes in the area that are coping with the pandemic, absent students and a huge dropoff in tourism. Already this year, Harvard magazine noted, 13 Harvard Square businesses have closed permanently, and the rest are scrambling. Concerning bookstores in the area, the magazine wrote:

Harvard Book Store has been fulfilling online book orders since the beginning of June and reopened to the public at the beginning of July, with 15 to 20 people at a time allowed inside. "Pre-pandemic we were holding 450 author events a year," [co-owner Jeff] Mayersohn said, "Now we've resumed that series online and are doing one every weekday night." The popular warehouse sale still happened this year, albeit virtually, with success. Mayersohn says event attendance has increased since the store began presenting them online. It has also resumed its on-demand printing business, which has received a large response from local writers who want to self-publish.

Grolier Poetry Book Shop has always depended on donations to survive, in addition to sales from its physical shop. But owners Carol and Ndidi Menkiti face a new challenge: "Because the store is so tiny and guests usually pack in quite close for readings, it would be virtually impossible to hold in-store events with social distancing," Ndidi Menkiti said, explaining that online sales became their only other mechanism for generating revenue. Half of the staff are volunteers, so they do not have the infrastructure for processing and shipping online sales in volume. "The launch earlier this year of online book retailer that supports independent bookstores and offers an alternative to Amazon--was very timely and fortuitous for us," she emphasized. "We became an affiliate a few months ago. Now, Grolier customers and supporters can order almost any book (not just poetry) through our affiliate page, and Grolier receives a percentage of each sale."

"The Harvard Coop [managed by Barnes & Noble Education] is still here and doing what it's been doing for the past 140 years," says its president, Jerry Murphy. Its online business has kept up well, but business in the main store has suffered, and the indoor café, which shut down in March, will not open again for the foreseeable future. "We're preparing now for back-to-school rush--even though it's going to be remote for many, students will still need their books," Murphy said. "Being able to buy course materials online is important. We provide hardbacks, used books, and digital copies."

Cool Idea: Young Pen Pals Club

The Ivy Bookshop, Baltimore, Md., is launching the Young Pen Pals Club, which will run from September through December and provide students ages 7-14 with stationery, stamps and an introduction to a new pen pal each month, Forbes reported. Local participants can join socially distanced writing sessions in the bookstore's garden and attend an outdoor meet-your-pen-pals event. The cost is $75 for pickup or $107, which includes shipping; students can be sponsored.

"It occurred to us that just like holding a real book, there's something timeless about the excitement of writing and receiving real, handwritten letters," special projects manager Hannah Fenster told Forbes. "I'm an avid letter-writer myself so I can't deny that this is a bit of a passion project. This summer, I've been reading the letters of Margaret Mead, who built and maintained an entire familial, social, and professional network via pen and paper. Legacies of people like her are on my mind, too, as I think about possibilities for cultivating closeness across distance. My own grandmother's stunning letters set the stage for a vibrant quarantine pen pal system linking my mom, brothers, cousins, and me. I'm just obsessed with the way letter writing fosters both presence and legacy."

Bird in Hand will host the Ivy Pen Pals Club until the new store is open.

Fenster stated that writing letters and connecting with others through letters is timely because Baltimore schools will he held virtually this fall. "I was talking recently with a student who mentioned that hours of video calls only exacerbate the sense of distance between her and her peers, causing her to 'zone out' instead of deepening her friendships," Fenster told Forbes. "By contrast, hand writing a letter asks someone to sit and think intentionally about both themselves and the recipient. It dials down the speed of connection. That kind of slow reflection and contemplation, of both self and other, have the potential to deepen the relationships that we're able to make quickly online."

This spring, the store moved into larger quarters in the former Divine Life Church but hasn't been able to open to the public because of the pandemic and renovations. Ivy Bookshop is using its other location, Bird in Hand, a bookstore/café, for curbside and patio pickup and browsing appointments. It hopes to open the new location in September.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Eric Weiner on Weekend Edition

NPR's Weekend Edition: Eric Weiner, author of The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501129018).

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Marilyn Chase, author of Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa (Chronicle Books, $29.95, 9781452174402)

Movies: Let Him Go

A trailer has been released for Let Him Go, based on Larry Watson's novel, which will be released in theaters in November. Directed by Thomas Bezucha, the movie stars Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Lesley Manville. Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan (owner of Books & Books in southern Florida and the Cayman Islands) of the Mazur Kaplan Company produced alongside Bezucha.

Books & Authors

Awards: PEN Ackerley Winner; FT/McKinsey Business Book Longlist

A Radical Romance by Alison Light has won the 2020 PEN Ackerley Prize, the U.K.'s only literary prize dedicated to memoir and autobiography. Two other books were shortlisted for the prize: Ghostland by Edward Parnell and The Photographer at Sixteen by George Szirtes.

Chair of the judges Peter Parker called A Radical Romance "an extremely frank account of a love affair and marriage between two people who came to left-wing politics through very different routes, and were instrumental in rethinking the way in which we view and record history. It also provides a vivid and funny picture of a less than comfortable life in a tumble-down Georgian house in Spitalfields while all around them developers had begun swallowing up the area. Finally, Light weaves into her narrative a fascinating enquiry into both memory and the memoir form."


A longlist of 15 titles has been chosen for the £30,000 (about $39,340) 2020 Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year. A shortlist of six will be announced on September 23 and the winner on December 1. Read a discussion of the longlisted titles in the Financial Times here.

Reading with... Shruti Swamy

photo: Abe Bingham

The winner of two O. Henry Awards, Shruti Swamy has published work in the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Her story collection A House Is a Body was just published by Algonquin Books, and she is at work on a novel, The Archer, forthcoming from Algonquin.

On your nightstand now:

The Inheritors by Asako Serizawa, The Selected Poems of Kamala Das, Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee, IRL by Tommy Pico and Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My parents, Indian immigrants, were utterly enchanted by the children's books they found at the public library--both concepts (the kids' books, the public library) were novel, and still some of the most beautiful aspects of American life they can name. It's hard to choose a favorite when you have such enthusiastic readers, but I remember loving everything Barbara Cooney wrote: books you could fall into, and live inside.

Your top five authors:

Ursula K. Le Guin, Arundhati Roy, Ambai, Gina Berriault and Lucille Clifton.

Book you've faked reading:

In my early 20s, I bought this very cool Moby-Dick shirt without having read the book and a person at a street fair yelled "Queequeg!" at me, and I nodded uncomprehendingly, and he said "Moby-Dick, right?" and it was really obvious to him I hadn't read the book. I was so ashamed that I went home and read it!

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai. The stories are at once so natural and assured and so surprising, and show such a deep wisdom and compassion for human nature. And somehow, some of them are also quite funny.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Garden by the Sea by Mercè Rodoreda. Those marigolds are extremely luscious and evocative, as is the title. (I was not disappointed!)

Book that changed your life:

I had a wonderful, strange year when I was 27, and had a fellowship that allowed me to spend my days reading and writing. I read Proust's In Search of Lost Time in these big empty days--it filled them, it changed me.

Favorite line from a book:

"The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts." --Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

The orchestral revelation about time, pleasure and meaning in the preceding passages ends with this statement, both comforting and devastating.

Five books you'll never part with:

I don't feel like I part from a book after I'm finished with it, rather, as I read I ingest it, the rhythm of the language and the ideas and the writer's perspective stay inside me and inflect my own writing, and seeing.

I had a practice of memorizing poems, for a few years stalled, but three poems I will truly never part with are "Just This" by W.S. Merwin, from Shadow of Sirius; "won't you celebrate with me" from Lucille Clifton's Book of Light; and "Meditation at Lagunitas" by Robert Hass in Praise.

The book you want to read again for the first time:

It's hard to remove the book from my past--who would I be without having already read it?--to offer it to myself in the present! Perhaps, simply for the shock and pleasure of feeling so deeply seen (and because I read this book not too long ago), I would choose Minor Feelings by Cathy Hong Park, whose exploration of her own experiences as a Korean American woman spoke directly to my own as an Indian American.

Book Review

Review: The Awkward Black Man

The Awkward Black Man by Walter Mosley (Grove Press, $26 hardcover, 336p., 9780802149565, September 15, 2020)

In Walter Mosley's short story "Haunted," a publisher has sent a rejection letter to a dead man, about whom he complains, "He wrote all that genre stuff and tried to pretend it was literary." It's impossible to read this line as anything other than Mosley's wink at the reader: being seen as less than true artists is the bane of good writers known primarily for their genre fiction. If Mosley, best known for his beloved Easy Rawlins crime novels, feels undervalued, The Awkward Black Man, the charged, fleet and often funny 17-story collection in which "Haunted" appears, may redress the misunderstanding.

The Awkward Black Man features men who are, as Rufus Coombs, the naive and sweet-natured narrator of "Pet Fly," would put it, "one shade or other of brown." In "Pet Fly," Rufus, who is stuck working in a mail room at an insurance company despite having a political science degree, is accused of sexual harassment after he leaves gifts for a female colleague. In "Leading from the Affair," a copy editor's two-timing of his therapists parallels the two-timing going on in his romantic life. In "Between Storms," a man's paranoia following Hurricane Laura compels him to skip work and hole up in his Manhattan apartment; his self-isolation becomes a news story, which leads to his misbegotten valorization as "a people's hero who was refusing to take one more step before the other side made changes."

Fifty-plus books into his career, Mosley hasn't run out of inspired plots, and his interest in social issues remains acute, although he editorializes with the lightest of touches; The Awkward Black Man teems with sharp, quippy dialogue and not a sentence suffers the indignity of a frill. The stories--some speculative, all playing out in the reliable noir settings New York City and Los Angeles--tend to be centered on Black men of accomplishment who are either underestimated or who self-sabotage their way to a personal or professional crisis. The namesake character in "Otis" could be speaking for a lot of Mosley's men when he says, "I always keep thinkin' that maybe I could find a place where you nevah have to get mad, and then I'd be cool." Leave it to a master of the crime novel like Mosley to give several stories a shocking final twist: a happy ending. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: This primo story collection by an author best known for his crime fiction reaffirms his place in the literary pantheon.

Powered by: Xtenit