Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, August 25, 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

News

Invitation Bookshop Coming to Gig Harbor, Wash.

Invitation Bookshop is opening next month in Gig Harbor, Wash. Noting that there are already two used bookstores in Gig Harbor, owner Allyson Howard reported that the 1,230-square-foot store will focus on new books, as well as puzzles, games, stationery and other book-related sidelines.

Howard plans to keep her inventory flexible in the store's first few months and respond to the interests and needs of her community. At the same time, she is working to curate an inclusive collection of books with the goal of "elevating voices that are either underrepresented in our community or have been historically marginalized."

With so many limitations on group gatherings in place, Howard said, her event plans will be limited for now. The bright side, though, is that she'll have some breathing room when it comes to learning how to host events. She looks forward to having children in the store for storytime sessions and hopes to feature local authors from the greater Puget Sound region. There are also plenty of "fantastic small businesses" in Gig Harbor, she added, and she's already talked to a few about potential partnerships.

Howard said she committed to her lease just before Washington State shut down retail businesses. The last several months have not been anything like what she had planned, but the one consolation has been that they are not alone in this. She added: "We're perfectly content being that scrappy small business that opened in spite of a global crisis."

Prior to starting Invitation Bookshop, Howard spent 19 years in education. She explained that despite working for a few years in academic publishing and freelancing for a literary agent for a brief stint, it was her time as an educator that honed her belief in the "social purpose of bookselling." She's tried to reflect that with her bookstore's name and its tagline: "Every book is an invitation."

"Writing and reading are open-hearted acts, and the page is where the experiences and ideas of two people meet to converse," Howard said. "It's a little act of wonder and magic. That was my favorite part of teaching, and I feel grateful that I get to continue that in my own bookstore."


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


Upstart & Crow Opens in Vancouver, B.C.

Ian Gill and Zoë Grams

New Canadian indie bookseller Upstart & Crow has opened at 1387 Railspur Alley in Vancouver, B.C. Quill & Quire reported that when co-owners Ian Gill and Zoë Grams--founder of the literary marketing agency ZG Stories--discovered the vacant retail storefront on Granville Island last autumn, they "knew it was destined to become their bookstore."

"The idea came pretty fully formed," said Grams. "We recognize the incredible publishing and bookseller ecosystem that we have in Vancouver with amazing independent bookstores. But there's always room for more. For us, the idea of launching a literary-arts space, where we're amplifying storytelling and contributing to Vancouver's appreciation of literature and stories, was a really exciting one."

The business opened August 19 "as a traditional bookstore, offering gift packages, book-club subscriptions, and literary-inspired artwork by local artists. Once COVID-19 physical-distancing restrictions are lifted, the small, private second floor will eventually accommodate a writer's studio loft for a residency program," Q&Q wrote.

Grams said the shop will prioritize works by indie presses and international fiction, adding that the intent of the business's creative side is to "support the storytellers and to support the writers, poets, or artists who are contributing to our literary community.... We've designed the space so that it can be fairly versatile: bookstore by day, events space by night. That sense of energy and welcoming people in is definitely a big part of what we're going to do."

Gill, who has written several books about B.C.'s Haida Gwaii region, said several partnerships are in the works with West Coast Indigenous communities looking to improve literacy in their communities.


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


How Bookstores Are Coping: Staff-Led Precautions; Work Reflecting Mission

In Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., the three Pegasus Books locations are all open for limited in-store browsing at reduced hours. Owner Amy Thomas reported that Pegasus began offering free local delivery a few weeks after the stores had to shut down, on March 16. About a month after that, they started curbside sales, and the first of the three stores to reopen for browsing did so in July.

Masks are required, and customers are asked to use hand sanitizer before entering. The three members of the Pegasus Books team who work in the office warehouse come in separately and on different days. Thomas noted that all of the decisions about safety measures and precautions have been "staff-led."

For the most part, Thomas continued, there have been few problems with customers refusing to wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines, but there was a very ugly incident a few days ago involving a woman who tried to bring her children into the store while they were all eating ice cream. When asked to wait to enter the store until her kids were done with the ice cream so they could put on masks, the woman had a "total meltdown" and berated the store's staff. It was particularly upsetting, Thomas said, because up until that point most everyone had been pleasant and understanding.

Even with the heatwaves, rolling blackouts and wildfires that have gripped California, Thomas said that things have been manageable so far, though the credit card machines went down briefly last Sunday due to lightning interfering with the satellite signal. The smoky air has also been quite intense, and it is preventing them from keeping doors propped open to aid in ventilation. Joked Thomas: "I am currently trying to figure out how to prep for locusts and raining frogs."

Thomas noted that prior to March 16, Pegasus Books employed 35 people. Today the stores have 17 employees. Some have moved, some have quit and some still don't feel comfortable returning to work in a retail space. She noted that while the team would like to start increasing the hours of operation, that isn't really feasible without more staff.

The store received PPP funding late in the second round, which Thomas and her team used to start paying vendors. While they've made some good headway in that regard, there is still a lot to do, and sales are still down more than 55%. She added that she's grateful to Binc, Richard Patterson and to author Charlie Jane Anders, who started organizing authors to do bookstore fundraisers days after the crisis started.

After protests against police brutality and systemic racism spread across the country in late May and June, Thomas and her team pledged to the Pegasus Books staff that they would do a complete review of all hiring and training practices and do anti-bias training both individually and as a group. The store will also increase its efforts to highlight books by BIPOC authors and illustrators, which, she noted, was already a major goal of the children's book buyers. That same effort will be extended and stepped up across all of the store's categories, she added.

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Rosaura Magaña, owner of Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix, Ariz., said her store is currently open by appointment only. Appointments are booked in 30-minute blocks, and customers get the whole store to themselves for the duration of the appointment.

Magaña reported that she, her partner and one employee are doing well. They check in with each other and are busy fulfilling online orders, maintaining a couple of monthly events and making plans for the holiday season, as well as handling the day-to-day running of the store. There was definitely a period of adjustment, she added, when they were faced with a lot of new challenges and changes, but they've "fairly easily" reached a new normal.

She and her team have not run into any problems with customers refusing to wear masks, with Magaña noting that they make sure to give customers the "ground rules" whenever they set up appointments. She also pointed to the fact that the store primarily serves communities that are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 as a reason for not seeing any mask resistance.

On the subject of the summer's nationwide protests, Magaña said the store has always worked with organizations and individuals that do the work of fighting social inequalities and, as a bilingual bookstore, Palabras has always primarily carried the work of BIPOC authors.

It's easy for a business to write a statement or say Black Lives Matter, she continued, but her questions through it all have been what exactly are these businesses doing, and how does their work reflect that? For her store, she said, their work reflects their mission by being a community-centered safe space for communities of color. She hopes this "much needed, though difficult at times" period of social unrest and action "moves all businesses and organziations to see how they can improve and evolve to support their BIPOC members and community." --Alex Mutter


Obituary Note: Charles Allen

Charles Allen, who "interviewed the last generation of British administrators of India in 1974 for the BBC radio series Plain Tales from the Raj, which was followed by a bestselling book," died August 16, the Guardian reported. He was 80. Although this was his most popular work, Allen's "lasting legacy as a historian lies in a series of books about earlier British residents in India, beginning with William Jones in late-18th-century Calcutta (now Kolkata), whose scholarship uncovered the past of the subcontinent, mapped its rivers for the first time, and discovered the common root of Indian and European languages."

In the wake of his first series, "similar broadcasts and books on those who had ruled in Africa and the far east" appeared, but Allen was concerned that 'these oral history interviews romanticized the imperialist experience, reinforcing old colonial attitudes in the 1970s and 1980s.' He went on a process of what he called 'relearning' the history of the British encounter with the subcontinent," the Guardian wrote.

His book A Mountain in Tibet (1982) was the first of 25 works "about the philologists, archaeologists and geographers whose work became known as orientalism," the Guardian noted, adding Allen defended the concept even after Edward Said's scathing critique of it in 1978. As recently as three years ago, Allen debated with Shashi Tharoor at the Lahore literary festival in London "over claims in Tharoor's book Inglorious Empire that the British impoverished the state of Kerala."

His other books include Coromandel: A Personal History of South India; The Buddha and the Sahibs: The Men Who Discovered India's Lost Religion; and Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling 1865-1900. In 2004, he was awarded the Sir Percy Sykes gold medal by the Royal Society for Asian Affairs for services to south Asian history.

"I'm very conscious that I'm a writer of history, not a historian," Allen said at a literary festival in India in 2015, while talking about his book Ashoka--the Search for India's Lost Emperor, which had released in 2012. The Hindustan Times reported that the "work was well-received, and Allen travelled with it, speaking at panels, including the Jaipur Literary Festival, marveling often at the number of youngsters who had come to hear him speak about the Mauryan emperor who, over two millennia ago (from 270 to 233 BC), popularized Buddhism and respect for all sects and communities as a reformed ruler."


Notes

Book Soup Hosts Sunset Strip Drive-In Author Event

"We had so much fun last Saturday night," Book Soup, West Hollywood, Calif., posted on Facebook, along with a link to a CBS2 report on Sunset Strip's first drive-in, socially distanced book event: a live reading by Peter Lunenfeld from his new book, City at the Edge of Forever: Los Angeles Reimagined. All of the author's proceeds were donated to the L.A. Regional Food Bank. The ticketed event was held in the parking lot of the iconic Tower Records, across the street from Book Soup.

Noting that the event "brought back memories of Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s," CBS2 reported that Lunenfeld "already had plans to release the book before the pandemic struck, but he was still devoted to getting his work out there, considering both safety and accessibility."

"So he came up with this idea of having a drive-in ready and enabling people to keep social distance and remain in their cars but also get to hear him through the radio," said his wife, Susan Kandel.


Blind Date with a Book Pickup First Lines

"Can you fall in love at first line?" asked Walls of Books, Cookeville, Tenn., in sharing a photo of its latest display: "Blind date with a book is back--with a twist! Each book has the first line to see if it captures your interest. As always, there are two gift cards hidden in the books! With the purchase of a blind date book, you can pick a free ARC while supplies last."

 


Personnel Changes at Image Comics

At Image Comics:

Jeff Boison has been named director of sales & publishing planning. For the past five years, he headed sales in the book market channel. Before joining Image, Boison was v-p, publishing planning & collected editions at DC Entertainment for nearly seven years and before that he was at Random House for more than a decade.

Alex Cox has joined Image as director of direct market & specialty sales. He is a former direct market retailer, in New York City, first at St. Mark's Comics, then at his own shop, Rocketship Comics. Most recently, he was event programming & special projects director at IDW.

Dirk Wood will join the company in September as director of international sales & licensing. Wood has 27 years of experience in the industry, previously at IDW and Dark Horse.

Emilio Bautista has been promoted to digital sales coordinator.

Chloe Ramos-Peterson has been promoted to book market & library sales manager.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sarah Frey on Marketplace

Today:
NPR's Marketplace: Sarah Frey, author of The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm (Ballantine, $27, 9780593129395).


Movies: Roald & Beatrix, The Tail of the Curious Mouse

The cast has been rounded out for Roald & Beatrix, The Tail of the Curious Mouse, a Sky original Christmas movie that will blend live action camera work, stop-frame animation and puppetry, Deadline reported.

Starring Dawn French as Beatrix Potter, the cast also includes Jessica Hynes (W1A), Rob Brydon (The Trip), Alison Steadman (Gavin and Stacey), Nina Sosanya (Brave New World), Bill Bailey (In the Long Run) and Nick Mohammed. Shooting began August 24.

Written by Abi Wilson, the film is "inspired by the true story of when a six-year-old Roald Dahl meets his idol, Potter," Deadline wrote. John Hannah is narrating, with music composed by Murray Gold.



Books & Authors

Awards: BAME SFF Winner; Washington State Book Finalists

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson won the inaugural Gollancz and Rivers of London BAME SFF Award, for her novel The Principle of Moments. The prize was launched in October 2019 when Gollancz teamed up with author Ben Aaronovitch "to champion under-represented voices in science fiction, fantasy and horror," the Bookseller reported. Jikiemi-Pearson receives £4,000 (about $5,280) and a year-long mentoring program with Gollancz's senior commissioning editor, Rachel Winterbottom. Second place finisher Kyla Jardine gets £2,000 (about $2,640) and a critique of her work, The Reeves' Guild.

Aaronovitch said: "I have been truly staggered by the range and quality of all the submissions. Choosing a shortlist was not easy and I'm looking forward to what happens to the winners and runners up alike. This was never planned as one off and are already laying plans for 2021."

Expressing her gratitude for being chosen the winner, Jikiemi-Pearson observed: "This prize is one that is sorely needed, especially in an industry with such a huge diversity and representation problem. I've wanted to be a science fiction fantasy author my whole life, but there was always a barrier in my mind informed by a world that told me: Black people don't write science fiction and get recognized or rewarded or celebrated for it. Or that they did--sometimes, but they had to be exceptional to do so. I'm young, I'm not exceptional--yet--and I have a lot to learn, but I believe the world's changing. I just hope the industry can gather itself in time to change alongside everyone else already forging ahead. To me, this prize is proof that it's a lot easier to do so that many would have you believe. So, thank you for all who made this prize possible."

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Finalists have been named in eight categories for the 2020 Washington State Book Awards, sponsored by the Washington Center for the Book, which is a partnership of the Seattle Public Library and the Washington State Library. Winners will be announced September 25. See the finalists here.


Book Review

Review: If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future

If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore (Liveright, $28.95 hardcover, 432p., 9781631496103, September 15, 2020)

It seems there isn't an aspect of contemporary life that hasn't felt the impact of big data and data analytics. But familiar as those terms may be, the early days of the science behind them is likely equally obscure. Harvard historian and New Yorker journalist Jill Lepore's If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future unearths that history in a fascinating account that's both illuminating and cautionary.

Founded in 1959 and bankrupt by 1970, Simulmatics Corporation was the brainchild of Ed Greenfield, a Madison Avenue advertising executive who dabbled in Democratic politics and had an affinity for the civil rights movement. Greenfield's goal, as Lepore (Joe Gould's Teeth) describes it, was to "automate the simulation of human behavior" through a computer program nicknamed the "People Machine." To pursue that dream, Greenfield recruited an all-star team of behavioral and computer scientists, most prominent among them Ithiel de Sola Pool, an MIT professor and the company's co-founder. One notable omission from Simulmatics's roster was Eugene Burdick, a colorful academic who had worked for Greenfield in the 1950s, and who later wrote The 480, a novel highly critical of the company's goals and methods.

Simulmatics first came to prominence in 1960, when John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign hired it to undertake a study of the Black electorate. Lepore doesn't resolve the debate over how influential the company's aid was in JFK's election victory, but the company was at least able to parlay that involvement into a hapless effort providing election night projections for the New York Times in 1962.

At the heart of Lepore's story is a detailed recounting of Simulmatics's shadowy role assisting the United States' counterinsurgency program in Vietnam. Under the leadership of Pool, who called the war-ravaged country "the greatest social-science laboratory we ever had," the company's crew of "oddballs, has-beens, and outcasts" oversaw an array of studies that sought insight into the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. In the end, though, this psychological warfare research proved as ineffectual as the United States' actual military effort.

Lepore draws a through line from the conceptually sophisticated, if technologically rudimentary, work of Simulmatics to the efforts of Cambridge Analytica that were instrumental in Donald Trump's election victory in 2016, and on to ubiquitous social media platforms like Facebook. While Simulmatics's record of accomplishment ultimately was less than impressive, understanding its story is essential for anyone who wants to appreciate large aspects of how modernity launched into a hyperconnected and uneasy present. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Jill Lepore tells the colorful story of Simulmatics Corporation, a pioneer in the data-driven study of human behavior.


The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Self-Published Titles

The bestselling self-published books last week as compiled by IndieReader.com:

1. Any Day Now (SWAT Generation 2.0 Book 8) by Lani Lynn Vale
2. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter
3. Digital Millionaire Secrets by Dan Henry
4. Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins
5. The Wedding at Seagrove by Rachel Hanna
6. Newport Harbor House by Cindy Nichols
7. From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
8. Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 2 by Alex Berenson
9. The Restaurant by Pamela M. Kelley
10. Killa City by Mark Dawson

[Many thanks to IndieReader.com!]


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