Shelf Awareness for Monday, October 26, 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


NYC's Strand Asks for Help to Stay in Business

In a public letter issued on Friday, Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of the Strand Book Store in New York City, has asked customers of the store to help to keep the store in business and wrote that "the next few months will determine the future of the Strand."

Saying that she felt she grew up in the Strand--"I remember the old floorboards clacking under my Mary Janes, the ghostly grey walls, the magical delight when I found the candy colored books gracing the wooden children's shelves and the thrill that I could bring home any book I wanted"--she stated that "never did I imagine that the store's financial situation would become so dire that I would have to write friends and devoted customers for help. It hurts to write this, but that is the predicament that we are now in."

Nancy Bass Wyden

The Strand's revenues in 2020 have dropped nearly 70% compared to last year, she wrote, "And while the PPP loan we were given and our cash reserves allowed us to weather the past eight months of losses, we are now at a turning point where our business is unsustainable... Because of the impact of Covid-19, we cannot survive the huge decline in foot-traffic, a near complete loss of tourism, and zero in-store events (compared to 400 events pre-pandemic)."

She noted that in the Strand's 93-year history, it has survived "the Great Depression, two World Wars, big box bookstores, e-books and online behemoths" and is the last of the 48 bookstores that once constituted Book Row still in business.

"As the third generation owner, I have tried to imagine what my dad and grandfather would do right now after they spent their entire lives--six days a week--working at the store. I don't believe they would want me to give up without a fight and that's why I'm writing you."

To help the store, Bass Wyden suggested customers:

  • Shop the Strand's online gift guide
  • Visit its stores--the flagship at 828 Broadway and its Upper West Side store
  • Give gifts from the Strand, including books, gift cards, subscription boxes, journals, totes, and more
  • Encourage friends to shop at the Strand
  • Spread the word by forwarding the letter and posting on social media using the hashtag #savethestrand
  • Shop early and shop local

The appeal has had mixed reviews. Many customers, as well as celebrities and authors such Gary Shteyngart, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan and Arianna Huffington, expressed support online and in person. The store's website was reportedly overwhelmed by traffic, and there was a noticeable boost in business at the Strand's stores on Saturday. Bass Wyden tweeted a clip of customers waiting to get into the flagship store.

At the same time, there were some snarky comments on social media and in some news reports about Bass Wyden's personal wealth. (Because she is the wife of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, she has to make public declarations.) Her substantial assets include the Strand's Broadway building, and she has investments in a variety of companies, most notably in Amazon. She has defended her purchases of at least $115,000 in Amazon stock this year, saying its appreciation has helped her keep the bookstore going and that she has used other funds of her own to support the store. In addition, the Strand's union has criticized her for taking at least $1 million in PPP money but laying off much of the staff.

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

Diamond Book Distributors Offers Indie Holiday Incentive Program

Diamond Book Distributors is launching a holiday incentive program to help independent bookstores in the U.S. that includes additional discounts on orders placed between November 1 and December 31 and extended dating on orders placed through the end of the year.

"We know independent bookstores have had a tough year with Covid-19 and shutdowns, and as they prepare for the holiday season and beyond, we want to help independent bookstores any way we can," said Josh Hayes, v-p of sales. "We think this program will help offset any losses stores may have seen this year. We value independent bookstores and we want them to succeed and we want their communities to thrive."

Indie stores will receive a 55% discount on eligible titles and free freight on orders over $250, 150 dating.The offer is limited to one purchase order per month and may be applied to all Diamond Book distributed titles published before 2021. The offer is valid on direct orders from Diamond Book Distributor clients only.

Stores may contact Diamond Books directly or their independent sales representative. For details about the offer and opening an account, click here.

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

How Bookstores Are Coping: New Relationships; 95% Online

In Springfield, Mass., Olive Tree Books-n-Voices has reopened for browsing with limited hours and limited occupancy. Owner Zee Johnson explained that when the store closed in the middle of March, she and her team started taking more orders via telephone and text messages. They were also doing curbside pick-up, and have kept that going even after reopening for limited browsing in the summer.

Johnson noted that the store was "on the road to really expanding hours and expanding services" but, as cases have risen in Massachusetts, that has set things back a bit. In terms of general safety precautions, no one can enter without a mask, including young children, and everyone has to sanitize their hands before entry.

Zee Johnson

Prior to the pandemic, Johnson said, the store thrived on "social interaction, community events, book signings and social gatherings," and with that in mind the store never had much of an online presence. Shutting down in March "certainly changed things quite a bit," and the store had to change its business model very quickly. Johnson hopes to have a fully functional online store up and running in time for the holidays.

On the subject of the holidays, Johnson has noticed that some of the sidelines and gifts that she bought early are already selling, and people "aren't waiting until November and December" to start buying gifts. She's glad she brought in these things early, and she has high hopes for book sales as well. With more people staying inside because of the weather and because of rising cases, she added, "what better way to have a wonderful environment inside?"

Roughly 80% of the titles Johnson carries are books by and about African Americans, and much of what she carried pertains to the African American experience. The terrible circumstances of George Floyd's death in May served as a catalyst for ongoing conversations about race relations. She was "bombarded" with orders from schools and other institutions, and her client base practically expanded overnight to include people from all over the country.

That support has continued, and Johnson said she's particularly proud of the relationships she's recently established with a variety of instutitions, including some Boston-area schools. It's not just that these schools are purchasing books from her, she explained. She also serves as a consultant, giving advice on what books would be best suited for different age groups and subjects.


Bea and Leah Koch, owners of The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, Calif., reported that while they're allowing in-store browsing once again, things are "nowhere near normal." The store is not doing any in-person events and is open only five days a week instead of seven. Foot traffic during the week is "basically nonexistent," and the store is still doing about 95% of its business online. Prior to the pandemic, they pointed out, online sales represented around 20%-25% of business.

Per California's public health mandates, masks are required, and the pair has not had to remind a single customer to put one on. They've also limited the number of shoppers allowed in store and have temporarily removed all seating, to "encourage people to keep their visits quick."

On the subject of any bright spots amid all this, they said their customers have "truly been fantastic." They've been "so encouraging" and have made the owners feel loved. In particular, they've really enjoyed reading the comments that people leave with their online orders. And for virtual events, it's been "so nice to be able to include people from all over the country and around the world" that they'll continue doing them even after in-person events are allowed again.

When it came to buying for the holidays, the Koch sisters approached the process with the belief and hope that people will continue being very deliberate about shopping small. Even with in-store traffic down, they hope to have a robust holiday season online. In the belief that people will want things to be as easy and simple as possible, the store is putting together a variety of curated gift boxes. There will also be a large focus on self-care items for sidelines and long-distance/miss you holiday cards. --Alex Mutter

International Update: #ShopEarly #Shop Local in Australia, Bookselling in Hong Kong

The Australian publishing industry has warned book lovers that "they could be left empty-handed if they don't do their book shopping ahead of the Christmas rush, due to printing backlogs and freight delays," the Sydney Morning Herald reported. "The final three months of the year are the most important when it comes to book sales, and are even more pivotal this year in the wake of the disruption caused by Covid-19.... But it's not all smooth sailing ahead, with supply issues a lingering storm cloud. Delays in postage, sea and air freight and industrial action at Sydney's Port Botany have all caused delays in bringing books in from overseas, and made doing so more expensive."

The Australian Booksellers Association and Australian Publishers Association have launched a #ShopEarly #Shop Local campaign, encouraging readers to "stay safe and avoid disappointment when shopping for books this holiday season."

Anna Low, owner of Potts Point Bookshop in Sydney, told the Morning Herald she had run out of space in her storerooms for the big book orders she had placed. This is all the more difficult at a time when booksellers have to cope with social distancing restrictions. "We really will have to limit the number of people in the shop," Low said. "Managing what won't be anything like a normal Christmas will be really hard. Everything is going to take longer. You need to allow time and if you know what you want, get it now."


Hong Kong's Bleak House Books was profiled by Nikkei Asia, which reported that three years ago, founder Albert Wan "moved his family from the U.S. to trade a legal career for the life of a bookseller, Bleak House Books has evolved into one of a handful of tight-knit community spaces that are serving to nourish Hong Kong's creative and intellectual soul... this reader's nook feels far away from the recently introduced national security law that has cast an unsteady shadow over the rest of the city."

"We still stocked the same books we stocked before, and so did a lot of other indie booksellers that we knew," he observed. "We just do what we do. I don't mean to make a big fuss about the books we stock. We just see what happens.... Every time we stock Animal Farm, it sells out. To me those titles are appropriate, and I don't believe illegal, so unless someone tells me otherwise, I'm just going to keep selling the same books."

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Bleak House Books had also built a reputation as a small public events venue. "I'm not a very outgoing person, so I'm not great with crowds and mingling and all that stuff," said Wan. "But I think for an independent bookshop, you need to do more than just sell books. If you're just selling books you're doing something wrong. Most of the events we have here are events that people ask us to host. We just give them our space and our nice décor."

Wan observed that the bookshop's future in Hong Kong is unpredictable: "I'm always thinking about that. Hopefully, we will. It's hard to plan.... I don't know if I could handle [life in Hong Kong without Bleak House Books]. The bookshop is part of my existence. Maybe you can't have one without the other. If the bookshop goes, I go."


Halloween update from New Zealand children's bookseller Little Unity, Auckland: "Sometimes when you're vacuuming the shop, you spot a book, and the social media post plans itself. The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett.... Featuring black-clad @briarlawry and an Electrolux Ergorapido Allergy 18V." --Robert Gray

Kids' Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Last Thursday, the American Booksellers Association's the second part of the Fall 2020 Kids' Next List was delivered to more than half a million of the country's best book readers, going to 596,541 customers of 172 participating bookstores. The next Kids' Next List, the first issue of the winter catalog, will be published Thursday, December 17.

The e-newsletter, powered by Shelf Awareness, features Fall Kids' Next List titles, with bookseller quotes and "buy now" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on the sending store's website. The newsletter, which is branded with each store's logo, also includes an interview (from Bookselling This Week) with the author or authors whose book was chosen by booksellers as the number-one Kids' Next List pick, in this case Yusuf Salaam and Ibi Zoboi, authors of Punching the Air (Balzer + Bray).

For a sample of the newsletter, see this one from Charter Books, Newport, R.I.


Image of the Day: We Have Everything Before Us

Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, Ill., welcomed Esther Yin-ling Spodek, who signed copies of her debut novel, We Have Everything Before Us (Gibson House Press). Pictured: event coordinator George Seibold and Spodek.

Jeff Kinney's The Deep End 'Drive-Thru Pool Party'

Posted on Facebook by An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Mass.: "We were off THE DEEP END for our wonderfully socially distanced drive-through event with Jeff Kinney today! Thank you to all who came out and decorated their cars to celebrate the 15th Wimpy Kid book! And thank you to Jeff Kinney for coming up with such a creative and fun way for kids to celebrate reading!"

Vox on Indies: 'How Bookstores Are Weathering the Pandemic'

A Vox article "How Bookstores Are Weathering the Pandemic" surveys indie bookselling at a time when many stores are closing--one per week on average--with some 20% of stores in danger of shutting their doors permanently.

Among the many booksellers and Binc staff quoted, Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., said that when the store closed to the public in March with shelves full of new releases, "All of a sudden, they just became décor."

Vox noted that after the pandemic hit, "the switch to online and curbside ordering saved bookstores from ruin. But it wasn't easy, nor was it enjoyable." As Steven Salardino, manager of Skylight Books, Los Angeles, Calif., said: "It started to feel like a fulfillment warehouse for widgets. It really took a toll on us psychologically."

Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., and Savoy Bookshop & Café, Westerly, R.I., personally began delivering books to customers' homes. "I was a UPS driver for a month or so," she said. Both she and Salardino emphasized that grateful customers helped them while they adapted to new business realities.

Now with no federal support, booksellers are nervously approaching the holiday season. As Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., said: "Given the current level of economic activity, it's not realistic to think that bookstores or other retail businesses can, on their own, make a go of it. More federal assistance is needed so long as the pandemic persists."

Still, as Philbrick said, "We're a stalwart bunch. We're just going to keep going. We're not dead."

Spooky Halloween Prep at Loganberry Books

"Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here," the sign reads, but Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which hosts a legendary Halloween celebration annually, offered a cautionary peek at this year festivities on Instagram: "Joking, joking! But we're NOT joking about making sure that our Haunted Bookshop Halloween event goes forward safely, even in the time of pandemic.... This *free* annual tradition is one of our favorites--a time when Loganberry transforms into what Christopher Morley wrote that EVERY Bookshop always is: haunted (by stories and voices... and maybe something else??). We invite you on fantastical tours for the whole family: encounter favorite literary characters, magical sights, fairy tales and of course, treats!

"This year we'll be taking only one household group (max. 6) through at a time in a safe and socially distanced way--face and nose coverings required in addition to whatever mask you may choose to wear! We'll include plenty of outdoor time to make sure everyone stays safe even while we get spooky. Suitable for children of all ages, accompanied by a guardian. We hope you'll spread the word and we look forward to seeing you there!"

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Marcus Samuelsson on Fresh Air, GMA

Fresh Air: Marcus Samuelsson, author of The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook (Voracious, $38, 9780316480680). He will also appear tomorrow on Good Morning America.

NPR's Here & Now: Matthew McConaughey, author of Greenlights (Crown, $30, 9780593139134).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Jeff Tweedy, author of How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back (Dutton, $23, 9780593183526).

The View: Jon Meacham, author of His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope (Random House, $30, 9781984855022).

Late Night with Seth Meyers: Natalie Portman, co-author of Natalie Portman's Fables (Feiwel & Friends, $19.99, 9781250246868).

TV: Mayflies

Synchronicity Films is developing a TV adaptation of Andrew O'Hagan's novel Mayflies, and has attached Andrea Gibb (Elizabeth Is Missing) to write the limited series, Deadline reported.

"I look forward to supporting the production in every way I can, and encouraging these brilliant people in their task of bringing to the screen my most personal novel yet," O'Hagan said.

Synchronicity founder Claire Mundell said O'Hagan's "depiction of a life-long friendship spanning the exuberance and promise of youth to the painful realities of later life is at once life-affirming, joyful and heart-breaking. In a time of turmoil, Mayflies is balm for the soul."

Books & Authors

Awards: CWA Dagger Winners; Diagram Oddest Title Shortlist

The Crime Writers Association announced winners in 11 categories for the 2020 Dagger Awards. Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham won the Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year, with November Road by Lou Berney receiving a "highly commended" nod in the category. The debut winner was Revolution Never Lies by Josephine Moulds, with a "highly commended" going to The Spae-Wife by Anna Caig. Check out the complete list of Dagger winners here.


A six-book shortlist has been released for the 2020 Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Founded by Trevor Bounford and the late Bruce Robertson in 1978 "as a way to stave off boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair," the Diagram Prize has had a home at the Bookseller and with legendary diarist Horace Bent since 1982. The winning title will be chosen by members of the public via an online vote, and a winner announced November 27. This year's shortlisted titles are:

A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path by Gregory Forth
Introducing the Medieval Ass by Kathryn L Smithies
Classical Antiquity in Heavy Metal Music by K.F.B. Fletcher and Osman Umurhan
How to Make Love to a Despot by Stephen D. Krasner
Lawnmowers: An Illus­trated History by Brian Radam
The Slaughter of Farmed Animals: Practical Ways to Enhance Animal Welfare by Temple Grandin and Michael Cockram

Top Library Recommended Titles for November

LibraryReads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, offers the top 10 November titles public library staff across the country love:

Top Pick
Miss Benson's Beetle: A Novel by Rachel Joyce (Dial Press, $18, 9780812996708). "Two very different women set off on a journey to New Caledonia to find a Golden Beetle, and discover so much more. A story of friendship and women breaking out of what is expected and being who they really are. By turns humorous, heartbreaking, and triumphant, you'll find yourself cheering for Miss Benson. For fans of Fredrik Backman, Elizabeth Berg, and Gail Honeyman." --Janine Walsh, East Meadow Public Library, East Meadow, N.Y.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Picador, $12, 9781529029581). "A cafe has something magical--if someone sits in a particular chair and a cup of coffee is poured, they can travel to the past. In this slender story, the lives of visitors and staff intertwine, and four hopeful people sit in the chair. While this book deals with different kinds of loss, it's ultimately warm and uplifting. For fans of The Immortalists and Oona Out of Order." --Julie Graham, Yakima Valley Libraries, Yakima, Wash.

The Boy Toy by Nicola Marsh (Berkley, $15.99, 9780593198629). "Hot Aussie alert! After a bitter divorce (cheating husband with a pregnant nineteen year old mistress), Samira left Australia for L.A. Now her cousin has convinced her to return for 6 months. On a night out, Samira is saved from a weirdo by a cute boy much younger than she is, and she's in for the surprise of a lifetime with her new Boy Toy. For fans of Ayesha at Last and The Wedding Party." --Afton Finley, Waseca Public Library, Waseca, Minn.

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager, $26.99, 9780062662620). "In this satisfying finale to the Poppy War series, Kuang beautifully weaves in much Chinese history while maintaining a distinct storyline. Rin's similarities to Chairman Mao are fully realized by this third book, yet she remains a unique character with complex emotions of both rage and empathy. For fans of series fantasy such as Chakraborty's Daevabad trilogy and Liu's Dandelion Dynasty." --Richard Lawhorn, East Cobb Library, Marietta, Ga.

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March (Minotaur, $26.99, 9781250269546). "James Agnihotri has recovered from a war injury when he reads about the 'suicide' of two ladies. His first interview as a new journalist is with the husband of one of the women, who wants to know who murdered his wife and sister. Jim follows clues, interviews observers of the tragedy, and travels through India. For readers who like intrigue, other cultures, and romance, along with fans of Kate Atkinson and Laurie R. King." --Gail Christensen, Kitsap Regional Library, Bremerton, Wash.

The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans (Riverhead, $27, 9781594487330). "A novella about the first African-Americans in Wisconsin and the lives of their descendants today along with several other haunting short stories. Recommended for fans of Jodi Picoult." --Heather McIntosh, Botetourt County Libraries, Va.

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman (Berkley, $16, 9781984803160). "Emilia is a devoted daughter, the second daughter in her family, and second daughters are cursed to never marry. Aunt Poppy, another second daughter, invites her on a trip to Italy promising to break the curse. For readers who enjoyed The Old Drift and It's Not All Down Hill From Here." --Chris Markley, Kingsport Public Library, Kingsport, Tenn.

This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press, $27.95, 9781641292696). "The author of the beloved Masie Dobbs novels shares both madcap and poignant stories of her nuclear and extended family, giving insight into the humor and hardships that shaped her imagination and work. For readers who enjoyed Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel." --Joy Robinson, Piscataway Public Library, Piscataway, N.J.

White Ivy: A Novel by Susie Yang (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781982100599). "A coming of age immigration story. Ivy, is obsessed with her privileged classmate and will do anything to win his love. For fans of You and Gone Girl." --Joann Im, Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, Calif.

Written in the Stars: A Novel by Alexandria Bellefleur (Avon, $15.99, 9780063000803). "Darcy, a buttoned-up actuary, convinces quirky astrologer Elle to fake a relationship for a couple of months to get her brother (and Elle's new business partner) off her back. For fans of The Kiss Quotient and You Had Me at Hola." --Elizabeth Gabriel, Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, Wis.

Book Review

Review: Stillicide

Stillicide by Cynan Jones (Catapult, $15.95 paperback, 192p., 9781646220137, November 17, 2020)

Cynan Jones (Everything I Found on the Beach; Cove) beautifully reprises his distinctive voice and poignant themes in Stillicide, a novel of climate change and human relationships. This novella-length meditation excels in its thoughtful considerations, quietly lyrical language and memorable lines and characters.

Water is rare and sought after. A water train has replaced the old pipeline to bring this commodity into cities, which are resented by the surrounding countryside. The train is armed: "Deer. Dog. Man. If it was still alive and present when the water load passed, the defence guns of the train would fire automatically." In the opening chapter, a marksman stands by as additional security, life and death in his hands. Meanwhile, the authorities plan to replace the water train with a new and wider corridor, to drag an iceberg overland into the city. "A gash cut through the city," this will displace many residents; protestors gather.

The subsequent chapters focus on different characters and their perspectives. A construction worker for the new iceberg path wonders if his work is for good or ill, and contemplates the work of his partner, who makes flowers from refuse to plant "in the cracks of the kerbs." A young nurse contemplates an affair; an older nurse lies dying. A boy chases a stray dog through the streets. An elderly couple on the coast refuses to move inland even as they see the future approaching. These perspectives note where the natural world still gleams in a city increasingly dry and dusty--aphids, butterflies, the rare deer, "sparrows and pigeons, as if from nowhere." A professor finds evidence of an endangered species in the iceberg's path, and with it hope: "A dragonfly could stop an iceberg. For a while at least." Many of these characters remain nameless, so that even in their specificity they stand in for a larger human experience, and the effect is that this thirsty world is a little blurred.

Stillicide is a sobering consideration of a possible near future, and a moving work of fiction. Jones is easy to appreciate also for his writing, for the poetry in "the contained clatter of the runnelled rain." The marksman guarding the water train, where the novel both begins and ends, drives home questions about what to value and protect, and when to let go. This is a quiet masterpiece of language, imagination and grim possibility. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: This minimalist meditation on climate change and human choices offers stark realism, haunting characters and lovely lyricism.

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