Shelf Awareness for Monday, September 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

Quotation of the Day

Booksellers 'Were the Original Readers for Me'

"Long before anyone seemed to think of me as shiny, long before anyone seemed to have a clue in hell who I was, indie bookstores kept me on shelves. Indie bookstores believed in me, they took chances on me; individual booksellers fell in love with my work and pushed in and hand-sold it.

"Because of that, I came up through this industry with an incredibly profound and very personal awareness of the power of a hand-sell. The power of an individual bookseller in an individual store--not a corporate hierarchy--of one person in one store saying, I love this book, you should try it. And what happens when a hundred of those people or a thousand of those people say, I love this book, you should try it.... I knew there were a lot of booksellers out there who believed in my work because I see it through the readers, but I owe them everything. They were the original readers for me--they found out about me when nobody else had a clue. I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful for that."

--V.E. Schwab, whose novel The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (Tor) is the #1 October Indie Next List Pick, in a q&a with Bookselling This Week

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


Elizabeth's Bookshop & Writing Centre Pop-up Opens in Akron, Ohio

Elizabeth's Bookshop & Writing Centre Pop Up Shelves x The Well, CDC hosted a grand opening celebration Saturday inside Compass Coffee shop in Akron, Ohio. The Beacon Journal reported that owner, activist and author Rachel Elizabeth Cargle "continues to push for greater inclusiveness in the literary canon. In May, she drew on the tradition of other Black-owned bookstores as safe havens and literary and cultural hubs and launched Elizabeth's Bookshop & Writing Centre, an online bookstore and literary center that aims to center the voices of marginalized writers."

Elizabeth's site notes that ths bookseller "is committed to contributing to Akron's vibrant economic resurgence as a safe gathering space rooted in the values of community, curiosity, justice, and joy." A percentage of all sales from Elizabeth's will go to the Loveland Foundation to support its mission of making mental health care accessible for Black women and girls.

Rachel Cargle

"A lot of spaces, whether you're walking into a library or bookstore, there is a very low percentage of books that either center Black voices, Black experiences, queer experiences, disabled experiences," Cargle told the Beacon Journal. "Literature is often the gateway into which we understand so much about life. We're reading stories, we're understanding how we interact with each other, we're understanding how we relate to the world, we're understanding through different characters how other people live their lives.... There's a lot to be said for when a Black child can pick up a book and know that what they're reading can be in some way reflective of their life, that they can see themselves in the magic of it, in the drama of it, in the excitement of it."

The pop-up will offer an array of books for sale by Black, indigenous, queer and other writers spanning children's and YA literature, science fiction, poetry, romance, historical fiction and nonfiction, biographies and more. Elizabeth's also has a list of books written by authors who are from or grew up in Ohio, including Hanif Abdurraqib, Celeste Ng and the late Toni Morrison.

Cargle observed: "There's a lot of reckoning that America has to do in general about how they approach literature, how they approach racism literature, and I hope that Elizabeth's will give people a wide range of resources to start approaching a variety of topics with a center and celebration (of) the Black voices that have been doing this work for a long time, and that that will be a launching pad for people to really start decolonizing their bookshelf and their understanding of the world."

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

James Daunt on Remaking Barnes & Noble

James Daunt

With all stores except those in Hawaii reopened, Barnes & Noble has returned to "a sort of normal," with sales down but "not that bad," and "trading profitably," said James Daunt, CEO of B&N and managing director of Waterstones, as he approaches the first anniversary of taking the top spot at B&N. Daunt spoke on Friday in a PubWest webinar with Michelle Cobb, interim executive director of the association.

Daunt noted that online sales, including "really good results from Nook," grew significantly during the lockdown period and "remain quite buoyant." Still, the company had to go through "the extreme difficulty of right sizing" for its current level of sales, which are growing slowly. "March, April and May were horrendous, with most stores closed," Daunt noted. "But June, July and August have been relatively good months." The company is also rebuilding its inventory after buying was cut substantially at the outset of the pandemic. "We underbought through June and July, but began to catch up a bit in August," he said. The recovery has been regional, with many stores having "robust sales," but in "metropolitan cities," particularly New York City, sales continue to be "terrible."

The redesigned B&N in Rockville, Md., opened in August.

A silver lining from the lockdown period is that as B&N closed stores, it kept "our most experienced booksellers" working and they focused on one of Daunt's major projects that had begun before the pandemic: renovating the stores and reworking inventory. (Having a large number of booksellers working during the lockdown also enabled B&N to reopen stores as soon as it was allowed.)

The ongoing effort has involved moving from being "a chain of very closely aligned bookstores with a very consistent representation" to "a chain of 640-odd bookstores, each of which would have its own personality."

The move to improve "the visual attractiveness of the stores" includes introducing many small tables up front, giving much more space to display hardcovers and show them faceout. (A personal fan of hardcovers, Daunt said their popularity in the U.S. compared to the U.K. and Europe has been a delight.)

As for inventory, he regularly asks booksellers to do an exercise: in a bay of books, remove all the multiples, leaving just one copy, put them all spine out and get rid of the ones that will never sell. At the end of last year, "that was a terrifying exercise because you start with what looks like a solid section of books," and afterward, "you were left with really nothing." (He's also not a fan of multiples, saying that most stores don't need to have more than a single copy and that stores are "better off with more range.") He added that publishers concerned about too many faceouts cutting into stock should know that the old B&N had a lot of faceouts and "an extraordinary number of multiples."

The stores are "constantly curating" the backlist, which he said is the measure of a good bookstore, and inventory varies from store to store, needing to fit its community, customers and demographics.

The Sarasota, Fla., store, designed by Daunt, opened in June.

The structure of the company has been changing, beginning with the home office, which Daunt said he wants to be "a service center" that provides support for stores in logistics and distribution and with investment in materials and furniture, etc. He's also changed how B&N buys books, allowing individual stores "to influence and take control of their own stock." In the new B&N world, he stressed, there is "no limit on what local booksellers can bring into stores.... I expect local reordering to cover literally every book in the store," as opposed to a relatively small number in the past.

Still being implemented, B&N's buying plan includes much central buying initially, as in the old days, but once first orders are placed, individual stores will choose whether to replenish stock. Daunt said the process of reordering after and even pre-pub "makes the process much more dynamic." For example, if a book starts selling in the 150 stores in which B&N placed it, the company will push it out to other stores. But because of "very lively communication" among stores, booksellers can find out easily about books and order them. The company has "a safety net": it centrally maintains minimums. He called the buying process he wants B&N to have a complex balance "between central and local."

The company has also been changing its sidelines offerings, stocking products that are "much more aligned to books" and reducing the space devoted to "what could be called a medley of non-book items."

As he has with the bricks-and-mortar stores, Daunt aims to improve B&N's online presence to make it more dynamic and avoid, after the pandemic subsides, reverting to its former model of "just selling books at the lowest price and not making any money at it."

The company plans to invest much more in, which he said has the most narrow presentation of a fixed screen, "like going back to the late 1980s," and the Nook, which he called "a potentially fabulous offer" that's been neglected over the years.

Daunt repeatedly criticized the tendency of the old B&N to push big books and not emphasize new and different writers. This has led, he said, to the "strange stultification" of the bestseller lists. "It's bookstores that find new voices," he continued.

Daunt stressed that one of his priorities is to reduce returns--as he did at Waterstones--but he said that the elimination of returns is not the goal. "The goal is to sell as many books as possible." And returns should be reduced when local booksellers are involved in ordering because "they know what sells, they know the customers, they know where to put the books."

Despite the pandemic and resulting economic shocks, Daunt was generally optimistic about bookselling, both online and bricks-and-mortar. The pandemic has led people to read more, and he hopes "that will endure." Of course, there are many challenges as retail has been "turned upside down." But commercial rents and cost structures will come down and more bookstores should open.

Concerning diversity and equality, Daunt gave a mixed report. B&N has been highlighting books that are related to the Black Lives Matter movement and that address civil rights and injustice. Daunt said there was "no more dynamic and compelling an issue" and that one of the missions of bookstores is to educate communities. As for personnel, the company has "a very diverse population of booksellers" but not among the senior ranks. B&N is working to ensure that in 10 years, "leadership doesn't look as uniformly white as it does now."

Asked about his personal reading, Daunt said he mostly reads physical books and occasionally e-books, and a lot of advance copies. He reads to discover new books and new voices, he said, so he tends not to read "much that is major," even people whose work he's read and liked. For example, he likely won't read "the latest Hilary Mantel" or the next Donna Tartt "because they don't need discovering." --John Mutter

Amazon Opens Bookstore in Texas, Fulfillment Center in Calif.

Amazon has opened an Amazon Books, the books and electronics store, in the Baybrook Mall in Friendswood, Tex., between Houston and Galveston. It is Amazon's 24th Amazon Books store and its second in Texas.


Amazon has opened a fulfillment center in Beaumont, Calif., some 80 miles east of Los Angeles. The fulfillment center encompasses more than 640,000 square feet and employs more than 1,000 people. The facility processes small items like books, electronics and home goods. 

The Beamount fulfillment center is now Amazon's seventh facility in the Inland Empire, making the company the largest employer in the region.

Obituary Note: Terry Goodkind

Terry Goodkind

Fantasy author Terry Goodkind, known for the Sword of Truth series, died September 17. He was 72. His publisher, Tor Books, noted that Goodkind "first established a career as a woodworker and artist, before eventually writing his debut novel, Wizard's First Rule, in 1994." That book launched the long-running Sword of Truth series, which eventually reached 21 titles, including the most recent entry, Heart of Black Ice, which was published in January. In 2019, he launched the Children of D'Hara series, set in the same world, publishing five installments between April 2019 and June 2020.

In 2008, film director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) and ABC Studios picked up the rights to adapt the Sword of Truth series as a television show. The series premiered in November 2008 as Legend of the Seeker. The first season covered the events of the first novel, and the second adapted its sequel, Stone of Tears. The series "was canceled in 2010, and efforts to bring the series to another network didn't pan out," Tor noted.

Goodkind wrote several related series, including the Richard and Kahlan books and the Nicci Chronicles, Locus magazine noted. His standalone titles include The Law of Nines, The First Confessor, Nest, The Girl in the Moon and The Sky People.

"It is impossible to put into few words just how amazing of a man, a husband, a writer, a friend, and a human, Terry Goodkind truly was," the author's Facebook page posted. "He is already desperately missed. We are forever grateful for him having shared his life's work with all of us, as he was always grateful to be held in our hearts."

Goodkind once wrote: "To exist in this vast universe for a speck of time is the great gift of life. It is our only life. The universe will go on, indifferent to our brief existence, but while we are here, we touch not just part of that vastness, but also the lives around us. Life is the gift each of us has been given. Each life is our own and no one else's. It is precious beyond all counting. It is the greatest value we can have. Cherish it for what it truly is.... Your life is yours alone. Rise up and live it."


Image of the Day: Honoring RBG at Book Passage

Book Passage at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Calif., opened Saturday morning with this display in honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Cool Idea: Webster's Free Wednesday Meals for the Community

Every Wednesday, Webster's Bookstore Café, State College, Pa., is offering free lunches and dinners to town residents, the Collegian reported. The vegan and gluten-free meals cost $10 but community members can pay as little or as much as they like.

"We started doing this shortly after the lockdown, when community members weren't feeling confident going to restaurants or grocery stores," chef Corey Elbin told the paper. "We wanted to offer a safe meal that helped get food to people and families and also help support local farmers."

Webster's also gives extra meals to a local business each week to feed the staff, and on Thursdays it makes extra food for a State College food pantry that serves another 40 people.

Webster's owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus said, "Realizing that our regular customers had reduced options for vegan and gluten-free meals during the pandemic, we developed this concept to get real food into the community. It's so important to all of us that we not only serve as a bridge between the farmers and local folks, but also a light of hope for those feeling isolated."

Media and Movies

Primetime Emmy Winners by the Book

At last night's ambitiously virtual Emmy Awards celebration, based in Los Angeles but without a live audience due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Watchmen was the big winner among book-related shows, garnering 11 trophies. Bookish Emmy winners in major categories included:

Watchmen, based on the DC Comics series created by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons: Outstanding limited series; Regina King (lead actress, limited series or movie); Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (supporting actor, limited series or movie); Damon Lindelof & Cord Jefferson (writing, limited series, movie or dramatic special) for the episode "This Extraordinary Being"

I Know This Much Is True, adapted from the novel by Wally Lamb: Mark Ruffalo (lead actor, limited series or movie)

Unorthodox, inspired by Deborah Feldman's 2012 autobiography, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots: Maria Schrader (director, limited series, movie or dramatic special)

Jim Henson's Beneath the Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, inspired by the book series: Outstanding children's program

Media Heat: H.R. McMaster on GMA, Colbert's Late Show

Good Morning America: Sunny Hostin, co-author of I Am These Truths: A Memoir of Identity, Justice, and Living Between Worlds (HarperOne, $27.99, 9780062950826).

Also on GMA: H.R. McMaster, author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World (Harper, $35, 9780062899460). He will also be on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Good Morning America: Ayesha Curry, author of The Full Plate: Flavor-Filled, Easy Recipes for Families with No Time and a Lot to Do (Voracious, $30, 9780316496179).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Desus & Mero, authors of God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx (Random House, $26, 9780525512332).

Books & Authors

Awards: National Book Award Fiction Longlist

The National Book Foundation released the longlist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. 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 fiction titles are:

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Ecco)
The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha (Tin House Books)
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books)
If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan (Norton)
A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Knopf)
A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet (Norton)
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw (West Virginia University Press)
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Grove Press)
The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka (Knopf)
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Book Review

Review: Earthlings

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, trans. by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Grove Press, $26 hardcover, 240p., 9780802157003, October 6, 2020)

Sayaka Murata's Earthlings, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is a shocking allegory about the consequences of nonconformity. Natsuki begins her story in childhood, when she recognizes, with a dispassion that sets off early alarms, exactly what is expected. "I was a tool for the town's good, in two senses. Firstly, I had to study hard to become a work tool. Secondly, I had to be a good girl, so that I could become a reproductive organ for the town." Natsuki is an outlier in a conventional family and is comforted by Piyyut, a toy that she thinks is animate and from another planet. Her cousin Yuu, of similar age, is also a family outsider who believes he's an actual alien. "I had the feeling he might disappear at any moment. I wanted to become an alien, too, and I felt jealous of him having somewhere to go home to," says Natsuki.

When a teacher rapes Natsuki and no one believes her, she says, with customary understatement, "It's really hard to put into words things that are just a little bit not okay." Readers, in detail, know how "not okay" it is. But Natsuki's tendency to view herself with clinical detachment isn't foolproof, and her harrowing reaction to this abuse is the first indication she's approaching a disassociation from which it will be hard to return. Later Natsuki, traumatized from the rape, and Yuu, both still children, orchestrate a "marriage ceremony" that involves sexual activity. They're discovered, and Natsuki and Yuu will not see each other for years.

As an adult, Natsuki has a sham marriage to Tomoya, who, like her, eschews gender and societal expectations. "Everyone was brainwashed by the Factory and did as they were told," she says. "They all used their reproductive organs for the Factory and did their jobs for the sake of the Factory. My husband and I were people they'd failed to brainwash, and anyone who remained unbrainwashed had to keep up an act." After Natsuki and Tomoya travel to her grandparent's house, and Yuu is there, the three make one last stand against conformity, leading to a grotesque and unexpected twist that is not for the squeamish but which punctuates their compelling desire for metamorphosis. Perfect for fans of Chuck Palahniuk and Ottessa Moshfegh, this worthy follow-up to Murata's acclaimed Convenience Store Woman will stay with readers long after the story is over. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Shelf Talker: A young girl grows into adulthood believing that she doesn't belong on this Earth in this shocking story about the consequences of nonconformity in a society with rigid expectations.

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