Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 18, 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


John Sargent Leaving Macmillan; Weisberg, Winslow Promoted

In a surprise move, John Sargent is leaving his position as CEO of Macmillan Publishers, effective January 1. Don Weisberg, currently president of Macmillan U.S. Trade, will become CEO of Macmillan Publishers, and Susan Winslow, general manager of Macmillan Learning, will become president of Macmillan Learning.

John Sargent at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018 (via)

Macmillan owner Holtzbrinck Publishing Group made the announcement "with deep regret" and cited "disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan." CEO Stefan von Holtzbrinck commented: "The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice. John's principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on." Sargent is also stepping down as executive v-p at Holtzbrinck.

The announcement offered no details on the "disagreements" at issue. In any case, Macmillan has had an especially turbulent 2020. The turmoil has included attacks against American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, published in January by Flatiron; pay and staff cuts after the pandemic; the organization of a publishing Day of Solidarity June 8 that was spearheaded by Macmillan employees, and e-book lending policies widely criticized by librarians.

Don Weisberg, new CEO of Macmillan Publishers
Susan Winslow, new president of Macmillan Learning

And on June 22, the company announced a major reoganization of the executive ranks, creating a 13-member Trade Management Committee that will run the U.S. company--a committee that didn't include Sargent, who said to staff in a letter about the changes, "I will step back from day to day management to make room for new voices." He did remain in charge of Macmillan's overall global businesses, however.

Sargent added the committee would be "a different and more inclusive management team, representing a wider range of experiences. This will be an exercise in changing power dynamics, and in making sure we have diverse perspectives in the decision-making process. We will make better decisions if our company structure is more representative of the world around us, and we can only do that if we align recruitment, training and retention with our day-to-day business decisions.

Sargent, who is chair of the Association of American Publishers, joined Macmillan in 1996 as CEO of St. Martin's Press after working at Doubleday & Co., Simon & Schuster and DK. He comes from a family of publishers: his father, John Sargent, Sr., was president of Doubleday & Co., and his great-grandfather was Frank Nelson Doubleday, founder of the eponymous company.

During the time he has led Macmillan, Sargent has been candid and outspoken in his views. For example, when the Justice Department sued Apple and five publishers, alleging collusion over e-book pricing, he fought openly and was the last to settle, and called the Department "myopic" and "carrying Amazon's water." When the White House tried to ban Michael Wolff's Fire & Fury two years ago, he kept selling the book, noting that everyone from printers to booksellers "all realize the importance of this book as a commercial success, but they also recognize the huge importance of reading a book the government is trying to stop."

In 2017, Sargent was honored by PEN America as "a fierce advocate of the right to publish and a defender of publishers' and authors' intellectual property rights." PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel commented: "A pillar of the publishing world, John Sargent personally embodies the intellectual rigor, integrity, and public-mindedness that make publishing a noble profession. His leadership in the industry has served editors, writers, readers, and booksellers alike, bolstering the strength of our community for more than three decades."

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

St. Pete's Book + Bottle Hosts Grand Opening

Bookstore/wine bar Book + Bottle in St. Petersburg, Fla., which opened briefly for a "first last hurrah" in March before closing to browsing because of the coronavirus pandemic, finally hosted its official grand opening, on the store's roughly six-month anniversary.

Owner Terra Dunham invited customers to attend an open house from 4-7 p.m., with happy hour specials on wine, beer and snacks. Masks were required for all attendees and the event was held outside to allow for safe social distancing.

In addition to alcoholic beverages, coffee and snacks, Book + Bottle carries a highly curated selection of new titles. Dunham also offers a B+B Pairing Subscription, through which customers receive a custom wine and book pairing each month.

Prior to opening Book + Bottle, Dunham briefly worked for a start-up before deciding to be her own boss. Before closing in March, Dunham noted: "The bright side of opening a business this week is that books and wine are both wonderful entertainment in self-quarantine."

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

Voice of the Heartland Award Goes to Two Dollar Radio

Two Dollar Radio founders Brett Gregory, Eric Obenauf and Eliza Wood-Obenauf

Two Dollar Radio, the publisher and bookseller in Columbus, Ohio, is the recipient of the Voice of the Heartland Award, sponsored by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association.

The associations said that "Two Dollar Radio's mission, and especially their commitment to actively elevate and publish the voices of BIPOC authors, is the very embodiment of what the Voice of the Heartland Award seeks to honor. Their work is meaningful, not only to our collective regions, but also in elevating and expanding the voices heard in American arts & letters. With their bookstore and café, located in Columbus, Ohio, they have created a 'third space' that has proven to be an anchor to its community. Eliza and Eric are also co-founders of The Flyover Fest, an 'inclusive and fresh three-day festival in the North Campus, South Clintonville, and South Side neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio that engages the city, stimulates creativity, and sparks conversation through multiple arts in walkable, distinctive venues.' Utterly inspiring!"

Bookseller Gary Lovely of the Book Loft, Columbus, Ohio, wrote in his nominating letter, "Since Two Dollar Radio's beginning in 2005, they've consistently published fresh, bold voices and have been a shining example of indie publishing. With only a handful of employees, TDR has managed to grab acclaim from both literary icons and every major reviewer. Not only are the books good, but through their Purchase with Purpose program, they've consistently donated portions of their sales to fight racial inequality, lift up the LGBTQIA+ community, and more."

Frankfurt Book Fair Offering International Program for Booksellers

The Frankfurt Book Fair is inviting booksellers from around the world to participate in a new digital program called Frankfurt International Booksellers. The program, taking place in October, is designed for booksellers who stock foreign-language titles in their bookshops, with the goal of promoting an exchange between international booksellers and the German publishing and bookselling industry.

Booksellers who sell works by German-language authors (in the original or in translation), or who plan to do so in future, and who would like to learn more about the German book market and publishing industry, are encouraged to apply. The organizers also encourage booksellers to apply who are from the countries scheduled to serve as Guest of Honor at the book fair, including Canada, Spain, Slovenia, Italy.

The 20-25 participants will network with each other in various online formats and will have the opportunity to meet important players in the German book industry. In a series of seminars to be held over several weeks, the program will also focus on presenting best practices from German bookstores and promoting an exchange of information tailored to reflect participants' practical needs in their current situation. Anyone participating in Frankfurt International Booksellers can also take part in the extensive digital program for professionals and in BOOKFEST digital, to be held during this year's fair, allowing them to become better acquainted with the German and international publishing landscapes.

The deadline for applications is September 28. For more information and to apply, click here.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Connecting Better with Customers; Ordering 'More of Less'

In Bexley, Ohio, Gramercy Books reopened for browsing in mid-May, about a week after Governor Mike DeWine allowed retailers to resume operations. Store owner Linda Kass reported that masks are required and she and her team put up a plexiglass barrier at the check-out counter. 

The store is taking card payments only for now, and only 10 to 15 people are allowed in store at a time, which is roughly 15% of Gramercy's fire code capacity. Hand sanitizer is provided throughout the store and surfaces are cleaned regularly. Kass added that there was one incident back in May where a customer refused to put on a mask, but there has not been another since then.

Comparing this summer to last summer, Kass said book sales between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year were actually ahead by about 14%. She noted that some of the practices she and her team started doing because of the pandemic, like curbside pick-up and "more frequent and strategic customer communication" through the store's e-mail newsletter, have helped them stay even more connected with their customers and community. "We've learned a great deal during the pandemic," she said.

Kass added that she and her team are focusing more on bestsellers and new releases. Browsing habits have changed, with customers being "a bit more cautious about they spend time browsing the aisles." Customers trickle in throughout the day, she continued, but most head "in a straight line from the entry to new release shelves and then to the bestsellers." Looking ahead to the holidays, she plans to continue with that approach and begin early holiday promotions on October 1.

As protests spread throughout the country in late May and early June after the murder of George Floyd, Gramercy Books took part in a Columbus, Ohio, initiative called HeArt of Protest. As part of that initiative, from Juneteeth until November 3, the store is partnering with King Arts Complex, an arts organization dedicated to social justice. Gramercy has been donating 100% of profits from sales of Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist to this initiative, and through August 31, the store has donated $2,504.16 to this initiative on the sale of 215 books.


Marlene England, owner of Curious Iguana in Frederick, Md., said her store was closed for browsing for two months, but she and her team quickly added e-commerce to the store's website and were able to do deliveries during that time. Becoming a fulfilment center overnight was overwhelming and, like other bookstores across the country, England continued, "we were working twice as hard for twice as less money, and then some."

Since mid-May the store has been open for browsing, but they are limiting occupancy to no more than five customers at a time. Masks are required, hand sanitizer is available and only "very rarely" has mask resistance been an issue. "We feel fortunate in that regard," she said. "Our customers have been very supportive of our new way of doing business."

England and her team are being much more selective with orders and focusing on a narrower selection of titles they believe will have strong appeal. In short, they're "ordering more of less." She added that her store saw its heaviest sales hit in spring, and since then things have been slowly climbing back to normal. That said, she and her staff are concerned about the fall and winter and what may happen if there's a second surge once the weather turns colder.

She also gave a shout-out to her staff, saying they've been incredible. "I could not have navigated these last few months without their support, their dedication and their sense of humor. It's been a team effort for sure to survive what's happened--and whatever it is that's to come." --Alex Mutter

Preparing for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, the annual event celebrating the freedom to read, will be held September 27 to October 3 with the theme "Censorship Is a Dead End." Bookselling This Week noted that booksellers "are encouraged to take advantage of both Ingram's discount [3% until October 4] on banned, challenged and relocated titles and the American Libraries Association's virtual programming ideas. This year's Banned Books Week is a great opportunity, especially as school districts are doing virtual or hybrid learning, to market your bookstore to the community and drive customers to your store."

The American Libraries Association has created a list of 40 virtual program ideas for Banned Books Week, including story time or q&a with a banned author, a partnership with a local LGBTQIA+ group to address why LGBTQIA+ stories are overwhelmingly censored, an online bingo based on banned book titles, and a partnership with an organization that centers on Black voices to discuss racism and the continuing challenges books about racism and police brutality face.

The ALA's program ideas in part reflect titles on its most challenged books of 2019, where  eight of the 10 titles were challenged or banned because of LGBTQIA+ content.

ABA members can download an 8.5x11 Banned Books Week poster to print as a counter card or use on social media.

BTW noted that the full list of hashtags associated with this year's event are: #BannedBooksWeek, #bannedbooks, #FirstAmendment, #freespeech, #censorship, #intellectualfreedom and #bannedbookslist.

Obituary Note: Stanley Crouch

Stanley Crouch

Author, essayist and columnist Stanley Crouch, "the fiercely iconoclastic social critic who elevated the invention of jazz into a metaphor for the indelible contributions that Black people have made to American democracy," died September 16, the New York Times reported. He was 74.

Describing himself as a "radical pragmatist," Crouch once observed: "I affirm whatever I think has the best chance of working, of being both inspirational and unsentimental, of reasoning across the categories of false division and beyond the decoy of race."

The Times noted that "he found ready adversaries among fellow Black Americans, whom he criticized as defining themselves in racial terms and as reducing the broader Black experience to one of victimization.... By contrast, he venerated his intellectual mentors James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, who, by his lights, saw beyond the conventions of race and ideology while viewing the contributions of Black people as integral to the American experience."

After moving to New York in 1975, Crouch wrote for the Village Voice, "where he was hired as a staff writer in 1980 and fired in 1988 after a fistfight with a fellow writer," the Times wrote. As a syndicated columnist he was long based at the New York Daily News.

Crouch's anthologies include Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989 (1990); The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994 (1995); Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997 (1998); and Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz (2006). He also published fiction, Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing (2000), and biography, with Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker (2003).


Inkwood NJ Pays Tribute to Customer

"This green chair is the very first item we ever purchased for Inkwood, and it has always meant a lot to us for that reason," Inkwood Books, Haddonfield, N.J., posted on Facebook. "It became even more special every time we got a visit from Dr. Javidian. He would arrive with his family,  pick out an interesting book, and then sit in the green chair to read (and maybe nap a little), while his family shopped (often for over an hour). After a few visits we started taking his picture and sometimes posting on our Instagram as #drjreads. Evidently he got a kick of having his own hashtag. We never had a conversation with him (he spoke only Farsi in the store), but we got to know him through books, and the family of incredibly avid readers he raised, who were our very first customers and who have become like family to us. We were saddened to hear of his recent passing, but we are so very grateful for the time he spent in our store, and in the green chair. Dr. Javidian, this is your chair now. Rest in peace. Love, Inkwood Books."

'Amazing Poem in Honor' of Odyssey Bookstore

"Wow--can you see us blushing⁉️" Odyssey Bookstore, Ithaca, N.Y., posted on Instagram: "Thank you so much Jennifer for your amazing poem in honor of our bookstore. We are as humbled by your accolades as we are impressed with your couplets. Jennifer shared with us that her Covid coping hobby involved writing poetry. Which (before her lovely ode to Odyssey) got us thinking. Might we be able to pull off a Zoom poetry slam? What do you think?? Whether you have poems to share or words you want to hear, let us know what you think! ...and thank you again Jennifer for creating something so clever which left us chuckling and blushing."

Personnel Changes at Penguin Random House

Anthony Key is joining Penguin Random House as multicultural marketing director and will report to Sanyu Dillon, who was just promoted to chief marketing officer. In an announcement to staff, she said Key "will be focused on creating a multicultural marketing playbook to ensure that our consumer marketing campaigns follow best practices, as well as working with divisions to create best-in-class multicultural marketing campaigns and understand multicultural audiences."

Key was the head of multicultural strategy at EGAMI Group, he was responsible for the development and execution of multicultural communications strategy for P&G, Quaker Oats Company, and the U.S. Army. He earlier held roles at Tough Mudder, WPP-UniWorld Group, Spike DDB, and Grey Global Group,

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Michael Cohen, Jane Fonda on Real Time with Bill Maher

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Michael Cohen, author of Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump (Skyhorse, $32.50, 9781510764699).

Also on Real Time: Jane Fonda, author of What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action (Penguin Press, $30, 9780593296226).

TV: Burn the Place

Iliana Regan's 2019 memoir Burn the Place "is being adapted for television after Annapurna optioned the rights," Deadline reported, noting that it had been "the first food book to be long-listed for the National Book Award since Julia Child and More Company in 1980."

The option is the latest TV project for Annapurna, which is currently working on an adaptation of Celeste Ng's debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, as well as Monsterland for Hulu and a series adaptation of Ian Parker's New Yorker article "A Suspense Novelist's Trail of Deceptions," among others.

Books & Authors

Awards: NBA Poetry, Nonfiction Longlists

The National Book Foundation released longlists for the 2020 National Book Awards in the Poetry and Nonfiction categories. Finalists in all five NBA categories will be revealed October 6, and winners named November 18 at a ceremony that will be held online because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This year's longlisted titles in these two categories are:

The Galleons by Rick Barot (Milkweed Editions)
A Treatise on Stars by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions)
Travesty Generator by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram (Noemi Press)
Fantasia for the Man in Blue by Tommye Blount (Four Way Books)
Obit by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press)
DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi (Wave Books)
Borderland Apocrypha by Anthony Cody (Omnidawn Publishing)
Guillotine by Eduardo C. Corral (Graywolf Press)
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf Press)
The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Wesleyan University Press)

Is Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto by Michelle Bowdler (Flatiron Books)
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (One World)
If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore (Liveright/Norton)
The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Liveright)
Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt (Norton)
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland (Tin House Books)
Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C. Slaght (FSG)
How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker (Mad Creek Books/The Ohio State University Press)
Afropessimism by Frank B. Wilderson III (Liveright)
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

Reading with... Nancy Jooyoun Kim

photo: Andria Lo

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a graduate of UCLA and the University of Washington, Seattle. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, NPR/PRI's Selected Shorts, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Asian American Writers' Workshop's The Margins, The Offing and elsewhere. Her debut novel, The Last Story of Mina Lee, is available now from Park Row Books/HarperCollins.

On your nightstand now:

Two books of poetry, Look by Solmaz Sharif and Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, live on my nightstand. Permanently. It's almost as if I keep them there for an emergency. I'm reading Melissa Valentine's gorgeous debut memoir, The Names of All the Flowers, which explores the complexities of siblinghood and the personal and collective grief of Black families, as well as Octavia Butler's chillingly prescient Parable of the Sower. Two very powerful and important books.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I didn't grow up with many children's books in my house. We couldn't afford them. Most of them were from the library and I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't remember any of their titles. But as a teenager, the book that had the most profound and immediate impact on me was Willa Cather's My Ántonia, which takes place in Nebraska on the prairie--far from where I grew up outside of Koreatown. Yet it was the first time I cried while reading a book. I remember thinking, Now this is what a book can do.

Your top five authors:

James Baldwin, Edith Wharton, Toni Morrison, Han Kang, Elena Ferrante.

These are authors whose entire works I'd like to finish before I die, and therefore, I must live long enough to read them all. Any author who makes you want to live longer is a legend in my mind.

Book you've faked reading:

I took an entire course on James Joyce's Ulysses in college, yet I never finished the book. I wrote essays about it and still got an A. I have read and loved his other (shorter) books, though. Honestly. I swear.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I love Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, a collection of essays that are so beautiful and mesmerizingly profound--a gift to all writers, and humans everywhere. I also love Luis Alberto Urrea's House of Broken Angels, a sprawling, quintessentially Southern California novel about a complex Mexican American family on the border, literally and metaphorically. A book written with such clarity, tenderness and heart.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I don't think I've ever bought a book for the cover, but if I can think of a book that I want to grab whenever I see the cover, it's Brit Bennett's The Mothers. I already have a copy (and I love it) but every time I see the cover, I want to buy it again?

Book you hid from your parents:

My mother doesn't read English, so I've never had to hide a single book from her. That might be the only advantage of having a parent who doesn't speak English. That and the fact that she can't read any of my work. Yet.

Book that changed your life:

I read Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories by Hisaye Yamamoto for an undergraduate course at a time when I was first trying to imagine a life for myself as a writer. Yamamoto's extraordinary stories explore complex topics, such as sexism and intergenerational conflict in families, with so much beauty, honesty and grace. Reading this book helped solidify my sense of being part of a community of Asian American storytellers, who wrote in even more difficult and demanding circumstances than our own.

Favorite line from a book:

"Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously.... Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them." I remind myself of these words from Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by the great Edwidge Danticat each time I face fear or uncertainty on the page which is more often than I'd like. I remind myself of the many places in this world, past and present, where the most marginalized, the most oppressed cannot speak, read or write freely, and in a sense, I'm obligated to continue my work as difficult as it is at times. I'm indebted to where I come from, the people who came before me, and the people who have fought and struggled for what rights I have now.

Five books you'll never part with:

Another Country by James Baldwin, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels (I know I'm cheating) and Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories by Hisaye Yamamoto. I could re-read these books over and over again.

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

I love it when I'm so immersed in a book that I want to literally throw it across the room when I get to a part that is so beautiful it hurts. I remember reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee on an airplane so I couldn't hurl it anywhere (legally) but I would love to read that book again for the first time (privately) so I could express myself fully during some of its most perfect moments.

Book Review

Review: The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America

Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America by Marcus J. Moore (Atria, $27 hardcover, 288p., 9781982107581, October 13, 2020)

In The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America, veteran music journalist Marcus J. Moore sculpts a thoroughly engaging, enlightening portrait not just of celebrated rapper Kendrick Lamar's life and music--in particular his landmark album To Pimp a Butterfly--but more broadly of Lamar's indelible stamp on contemporary musical landscapes and popular culture.

Why Lamar? Why now? Moore explains, "Though he isn't done creating (as of this writing), there's no denying the grand impact he's had on music and black culture over the past decade. His story is worth celebrating, so why not give him flowers now?" The rapper has certainly earned many accolades already--his album DAMN. won the Pulitzer Prize for music; Barack Obama called Lamar's 2015 song "How Much a Dollar Cost" his favorite of the year, and invited Lamar to the White House; he's earned more than a dozen Grammys.

Culling from extensive research, interviews with musicians and industry insiders and previously published interviews with Lamar, Moore traces and contextualizes Lamar's youth in Compton, Calif., his evolving persona and his ascension to celebrity. Moore also explores the roles of peers and mentors throughout Lamar's life, describing in fascinating detail ways the titans of (especially West Coast) rap have influenced Lamar.

Throughout, Moore compellingly ties Lamar's life and art to contemporary political and cultural movements like Black Lives Matter and the quest for greater gun control in the U.S. He focuses on Lamar, rarely inserting himself in the narrative. When he does, it hits powerfully. In his examination of Lamar's song "The Blacker the Berry," a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, Moore writes, "To be black at that time was to live in constant fear or anger over what was happening to people who looked like us. If you watched the news or scrolled through social media, it was easy to feel like your life didn't matter, that even though the president tried to instill tranquility, there was a fifty-fifty chance that you could be the next hashtag."

Ultimately, The Butterfly Effect is more than an interesting biography: it's an investigation into what art can encapsulate and what kinds of change it can effect. Moore argues, "Hip-hop saves the community; it's the voice of the voiceless, the sound of oppressed people spinning negativity into vibrant art." And as Moore himself skillfully demonstrates, Lamar's contribution is worth celebrating, worth study, worth the flowers now. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Shelf Talker: This vivid, deeply researched biography of Kendrick Lamar is rich with memorable details and commentary on the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper's life, art and cultural impact so far.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Stats Matter, But Booksellers Matter More

Stats matter, but they can also be deceptive. We measure everything, especially in 2020. As a lifelong sports fan, I'm used to keeping score, but I also know when to look beyond the numbers (New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra: "Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical."). As a book trade journalist, I process statistics nearly every day, and this year, as a human being, I've added Covid-19 and election polling results to my ongoing scoreboard. It can get more than a little mind-boggling, bordering on obsessive.

Why do we do this to ourselves? The answer is simple enough. We want to know what we're seeing out the front window as we careen down the highway, but we also hope to get hints of what's coming up around that dangerous looking curve just ahead. Can we maintain speed? Should we hit the brakes?

Jack Womack once wrote a novel called Let's Put the Future Behind Us. I loved that title at first sight. The philosophy sums us up pretty well. If we could game the system, I suspect we would try. But we (mostly) can't.

I've been reading between the numbers in BookNet Canada's sixth edition of The State of Publishing in Canada, which surveyed Canadian English-language publishers "for a snapshot of the industry as of 2019 and pulls in results from other BookNet Canada research--including our Impact of Covid-19 on Reading survey--to provide a fuller picture of the entire publishing landscape."

The end-of-'19 numbers were encouraging, as might be expected in a non-coronavirus landscape. BookNet Canada found that 72% of publishers considered their company to be healthy at the end of last year, and projections for 2020 were generally positive, with most respondents anticipating an increase in e-book and audiobook sales, while 64% thought print book sales would either stay the same or increase.

According to the Canadian Book Consumer survey, 81% of buyers chose to purchase a print book in 2019, 20% an e-book and 8% an audiobook (a category that rose 41% over 2018). Print books accounted for 85% of sales for small publishers, 88% for mid-size publishers, and 81% for large publishers.

When asked about industry challenges they would most like to tackle, 63% of publishers said they were most interested in hiring and promoting more diverse staff. While only 31% offered unconscious bias training to staff in 2019, the remainder indicated they would like to be able to offer such training in the future.

And then, suddenly, we descended into the pandemic spring of 2020.

"Covid-19 has created crisis conditions for Canada's troubled retail bookstore sector, and that has serious implications for Canadian cultural life," according to Covid-19 and the Challenge to Chain Retail Bookstores in Canada's Cultural Landscape, a discussion paper released in June by the More Canada think tank project steering committee.

As might be expected, worlds collide in these two reports. The book landscape that existed at the end of 2019 offered optimistic projections, expectations, anticipations, a whole thesaurus of words looking to a bright-ish book future. But just around that previously mentioned blind, sharp turn ahead was an onrushing convoy of 18-wheelers loaded with Covid-19, about to smash into the whole planet, sales projections and their synonyms be damned.

"Indigo Books, whose bricks and mortar Indigo, Chapters and Coles stores dominate retail bookselling in English Canada, was already in financial difficulty pre-Covid," the More Canada paper noted, adding: "The independent bookstore sector appears to have weathered Covid-19 reasonably well. Stores offered customers home delivery and curb-side pickup. Sales have been low, but the booksellers are surviving."

Survival, not projections, rules for the moment. Stats matter; booksellers matter more.

Bookstores "play a key role in the book supply chain, linking authors and publishers to readers, and are critically important contributors to their communities' cultural life," according to the More Canada paper. "Independent bookstores are particularly valuable to their communities, particularly because they are most successful at connecting Canadian authors to readers. Canadian books currently account for 18-20% of independent bookstore sales in English Canada." The nascent Canadian Independent Booksellers Association was also mentioned as a positive development.

"Books can be and are sold by a wide variety of retailers, both bricks and mortar and online," the paper concluded. "But readers need and value one particular kind of book retailer--bricks and mortar bookstores--over the others. Only in these bookstores can readers discover and access the wide range of books, including the 3,000 new Canadian-authored books published every year in English Canada, that will engage, inform and entertain them. Readers need bookstores. It is the task of Canadian public policy today to find the measures that will ensure that Canadian readers will continue to have Canadian bookstores where they can discover and obtain the books they want to read."

--Robert Gray, editor

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