Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Tordotcom: The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang

Berkley Books: My Summer Darlings by May Cobb

Central Avenue Publishing: Come as You Are by Jennifer Haupt

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation: Watch the new documentary, Tell Me Another Story: Diversity in Children Books

Shadow Mountain: Scrumptious from the Girl Who Ate Everything by Christy Denney

Berkley Books: Enter to win spring women's fiction from Berkley!

St. Martin's Press: Life's Messy, Live Happy: Things Don't Have to Be Perfect for You to Be Content by Cy Wakeman

Quotation of the Day

'Your Bookshop Needs You'

"In June, with the coronavirus in retreat and with help from the Booksellers Association (BA), we encouraged everyone to #ChooseBookshops as high street retailers looked to reopen. Now, with lockdowns coming in across Ireland and the United Kingdom, we say again, and more loudly than ever, your bookshop needs you....

"So what can we do? Look to the Booksellers Association, and support it in getting resources and information to booksellers. It is a small team working incredibly hard to get ahead of the situation and keep booksellers at the top of the agenda. Adopt a local bookshop (including a chain one), and either visit and buy physically, or virtually. If you are a publisher, author or influencer, consider using Bookshop.org (or an alternative) to push sales towards indies--in the U.S., Simon & Schuster added 'buy' buttons to all its websites leading to the Bookshop.org site, in addition to donating its own affiliate fees to charity. I would go a step further: take down the Amazon links, too. There is one other key message we need to amplify and understand. Bookshops are open (even when the doors are shut). It is on us to make sure they remain so.'

--Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller, in a column headlined "Support your local bookseller"

Ace Books: The Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz


News

Plea from NYC's Strand Gets Big Response

Nancy Bass Wyden shared this video of customers lined up around the block at the Strand.

The plea last Friday by Nancy Bass Wyden, the owner of New York City's Strand Bookstore, for friends and customers to support the struggling store struck a chord--people lined up at its two stores in Manhattan and generated huge amounts of sales online, the New York Times reported.

On Saturday, there were 10,000 online orders, enough to crash the website. Altogether over the weekend, the Strand received 25,000 online orders, at a time when there would normally be about 600. Sales at the flagship store on Broadway were the highest for any October day ever, and the new Upper West Side store had its best sales day since opening in March. A customer from the Bronx ordered 197 books.

"People tell me all the time that this is their favorite place," Bass Wyden said. "They seem to always have a Strand story. I met somebody at a cocktail party and she told me about getting engaged in the rare book room. Two people came in yesterday, this was their first date."

Melissa Guzy, a union shop steward at the Strand, told the Times that there had been contract violations and attempts at union busting "going back for years," and noted that the union protested this summer when Bass Wyden laid off most of the Strand's 212 employees, despite receiving a PPP loan for more than $1 million.

Still, Guzy said, she hoped the store would survive: "When people support the Strand, they aren't just supporting Nancy, they're supporting us, they're supporting the workers."


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: Get your crime and politics fill!


How Bookstores Are Coping: Building Relationships; Word of Mouth

In Cincinnati, Ohio, Downbound Books remains closed to walk-in browsing, though owner Gregory Kornbluh and his team started offering private shopping appointments earlier this month. Plexiglass shields now surround the checkout counter, and masks and hand sanitizer are required. The store continues to offer curbside pick-up, as well as local delivery and shipping.

Kornbluh hopes that the appointment shopping will help get the store through the holidays, but after that, he expects to "lock back down" to just shipping, delivery and pick-up. When asked if there have been any issues with mask compliance, Kornbluh said no, and noted that Ohio has had a statewide mask mandate in place for "many months now." And when customers book shopping appointments, the store makes it very, very clear that mask-wearing will be strictly enforced.

The store opened in October 2019, just five months before the pandemic began, and Kornbluh noted that the pandemic seems to have accelerated the process of relationship-building with the community. In particular, the store was there for community members during the strictest phase of the lockdown, and in turn the community was there for the store. He added that even after things return to normal, the store will likely keep offering free local delivery. The pandemic has also helped inspire the team to get more creative about how it partners with other organizations in the community.

Kornbluh called holiday buying a "work in progress." This will be only the store's second holiday season, and even if the store had a long track record to look back on, "it's not at all clear that buying patterns would hold for this year." He and the team are trying to build up stock on titles they are fairly certain will be popular, while also finalizing lists of staff favorites for the year, which will be the "go-to handsells" for the season. Even before the pandemic, the store was not big on gifts and sidelines, and with impulse buying not being so much of a thing online, the store is approaching non-book items even more conservatively this year.

When asked about encouraging customers to shop early, Kornbluh said that push was a "fine line" for the store. In store newsletters they've mentioned a few times that many books will likely be out of stock before the end of the season, but doing much more than that "hasn't felt right." The store is still very new, he explained, so it feels as if they haven't "earned the right" to ask people to make Downbound Books a priority. He and his team are also not comfortable with anything that gives the impression that they're encouraging early shopping for their own benefit, and not for the convenience, peace of mind or pleasure for shoppers themselves.

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Dionne Sims, owner of Black Garnet Books in Minneapolis, Minn., is selling books online and through a pop-up location at Merci Tattoo in downtown Minneapolis. Sims explained that the pop-up is open only on Sunday and Monday, when the tattoo parlor is closed. She has two bookshelves that are about eight feet tall and two tables for T-shirts, sweaters, calendars and other merchandise. She requires appointments for people to shop in the pop-up, up to three people per appointment, and masks are required.

She noted that the Covid precautions are stricter for the tattoo parlor than the bookstore, which is why she operates the pop-up when the tattoo parlor is closed. The whole arrangement, she continued, is to allow her to build a presence in the community and get an understanding of what books her customers want, in a way that minimizes risk to both herself and shoppers.

Though she was initially worried about backlash when she instituted appointment shopping, almost everyone who comes in mentions how happy they are that Sims is using an appointment system. And in general the reception to her pop-up has been great. Last weekend was the pop-up's fourth weekend in operation, and about 90% of the appointment slots were booked on both days.

On the subject of the holidays, Sims said she has not "been pushing anything yet" or encouraging customers to shop early. Given that she can allow so few people in the store at once and her hours are very limited, she doesn't want to attract a bunch of people she can't accommodate. At the same time, she is the only one working the pop-up, and there's only so much she can handle in terms of running the pop-up two days per week and fulfilling online orders. For pop-up business she's been relying on word of mouth, and so far that's "been more than enough to keep things afloat."

With the pop-up hours and occupancy limited, Black Garnet is still doing much more business online than in person. Sims has seen support from customers around the country, and over the past few months her store has been featured on various lists of Black-owned bookstores to support, including the one put together by Oprah magazine. That level of widespread support has been a very encouraging surprise, she said. It's also allowed her to connect with other bookstore owners who are Black women. "I didn't expect anyone outside of Minnesota to care about this bookstore."

Sims hopes to open a permanent location next year, in the late spring or early summer. She's started looking at places in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, but she noted that she's "not personally in a rush." She's very happy with the arrangement she has now, especially with winter on the horizon and Covid cases on the rise. By next spring and summer, she continued, there will hopefully be a better sense of where things are going. --Alex Mutter


Disney-Hyperion: Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs by Pam Muñoz Ryan


Bradley's Book Outlet to Close Physical Stores at Year's End

Bradley's Book Outlet, a family-owned bookstore that primarily sells bargain books and bestsellers in eight locations across Pennsylvania, will close all of its physical locations at the end of the year, the Penn reported. Bradley's wholesale business and online business will both continue.

Michael Bradley Paper, who owns and operates the bookstore alongside his father, Lawrence Paper, told WJAC that the stores have had a difficult time turning a profit over the past few years, and now, because of the pandemic, "we have reached a point where the stores are losing money, and I do not see a path forward for a turnaround."

The Bradley's stores began liquidation sales in August, offering 20%-60% off various items. Those sales will continue until the end of the year, at which point they will lay off around 50 people. Paper did not rule out the possibility of doing pop-up shops in the future, and noted that some of the individual stores, if purchased, have the potential to turn a profit.

The first Bradley's location opened in Pittsburgh in 1993.


Tu Books: Black Was the Ink by Michelle Coles, illustrated by Justin Johnson


Amazon Opening New Fulfillment Centers in Texas & Nebraska

Amazon will open its first fulfillment center in Waco, Tex. The 700,000-square-foot facility should open next year. Alicia Boler Davis, the company's v-p of global customer fulfillment, said, "We are excited for our future in Central Texas, and for what this means for our customers as we continue to grow. We'd also like to thank local and state leaders for their strong support in making this project possible."

Governor Greg Abbott added: "This facility is the latest milestone in the strong partnership between Amazon and Texas, and I look forward to seeing the prosperity this facility will bring to the Waco community."

Waco Mayor of Kyle Deaver commented: "We appreciate the work of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, the Waco/McLennan County Economic Development Corporation, and the Waco Industrial Foundation in attracting Amazon, and we look forward to having this innovative fulfillment center as a showpiece in the Central Texas Industrial Park."

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Amazon has also announced plans for its first Nebraska fulfillment center, which will be located in Papillion and is anticipated to launch in 2021. Davis expressed the online retailer's customary appreciation for "the strong support from local and state leaders throughout the process, and we look forward to supporting the Nebraska community with great delivery options."

Calling the development "exciting news for Nebraska," Governor Pete Ricketts said, "Winning the project demonstrates our state's resilience and economic vitality despite challenges."

Papillion Mayor David Black added: "We are proud of the spirit of collaboration that brings new business to our community; and, we are equally proud of the talented workforce we have at our disposal to fill the technical positions Amazon provides."


Sourcebooks Explore: You Are Not Alone by Alphabet Rockers, illustrated by Ashley Evans


Obituary Note: Daniel Menaker

Daniel Menaker
(photo: Katherine Bouton)

Daniel Menaker, "who incubated literary celebrities as executive editor in chief of Random House and as a senior fiction editor of the New Yorker, and who, as a wry and discerning stylist, became a critically praised author himself," died October 26, the New York Times reported. He was 79.

Mentored by William Shawn and William Maxwell at the New Yorker, Menaker oversaw fiction primarily and edited reviews by the film critic Pauline Kael. He was only 10 years old when his first New Yorker contribution appeared, a Talk of the Town item "about a classmate who had identified Columbus’s fleet as 'the Atchison, the Topeka and the Santa Fe' railroads," the Times noted. Menaker later told the Brooklyn Rail: "Miraculously, they recast it a bit and published it. I guess it set me on the road to authorial vanity and perdition."

At Random House, he edited the poetry and prose of Noah Baumbach, Michael Chabon, Billy Collins, Ted Conover, Mavis Gallant, Jonathan Kellerman, Colum McCann, Alice Munro, V.S. Pritchett, Salman Rushdie, Gary Shteyngart, Daniel Silva and Elizabeth Strout, among others.

As an author, Menaker's works include the memoir My Mistake (2013), The Treatment (1998), The Old Left and Other Stories (1987), The Worst (1979, with Charles McGrath) and A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation (2010). Just before he died, he had completed Terminalia, a book of poems about cancer in a time of pandemic. It will be published this fall by Portal Press and distributed by n + 1 Foundation.

Menaker was hired by the New Yorker in 1968 as a fact checker, and was working as a copy editor "when, by his account, Mr. Shawn dismissed him as a know-it-all, but not before telling him that he could stay on while taking as long as he needed to find another job." The Times noted, adding: "It took 26 years."

He left the magazine after Tina Brown took over as editor in the 1990s, and was hired in 1995 by her husband, the late Random House publisher Harold Evans, to be a senior literary editor. After a brief hiatus as executive editor of HarperCollins, Menaker returned to Random House as executive editor in chief of the Random House Publishing Group in 2003. He left in 2007.

On Twitter, n + 1 editor Benjamin Kunkel wrote: "In spite of being something like the consummate publishing insider, Dan always struck me as an amateur, in the old sense of the word, in that he seemed just to love what he did--writing, reading, editing--never mind that he got paid (pretty handsomely, he acknowledged) to do it. I don't know anybody whose good nature seemed to come more naturally to him."


Notes

Happy 30th Birthday, Mystery Lovers Bookshop!

Congratulations to Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont., Pa., which wrote to customers: "It's our birthday this Saturday! Mystery Lovers turns 30 and we cannot thank our customers enough for making Mystery Lovers what it is today. This year has been trying for everyone, including retailers. When we temporarily closed our doors in March we did not know what would happen. However, with you all by our side, we have been able to reopen. We plan to be here another 30 years and continue to be a destination for book lovers." Owners Tara Goldberg-DeLeo and Kristy Bodnar bought the store in 2018.

As part of the celebration, the store is hosting a Zoom event with Richard Goldman, who founded the store with his late wife, Mary Alice Gorman, tomorrow, Thursday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. "Take a trip down memory lane," the store wrote. "Learn about the origins of Mystery Lovers and hear some fun stories from the past 30 years." Register for the free event here.


Personnel Changes at Simon & Schuster; the Experiment

Rebecca Suss has been promoted to manager, corporate communications, at Simon & Schuster.

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Sophie Tesluk has been promoted to publicity associate at the Experiment.



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Matthew McConaughey, Natalie Portman on Watch What Happens Live

Tomorrow:
Watch What Happens Live: Matthew McConaughey, author of Greenlights (Crown, $30, 9780593139134).

Also on Watch What Happens Live: Natalie Portman, co-author of Natalie Portman's Fables (Feiwel & Friends, $19.99, 9781250246868). She will also appear on the Kelly Clarkson Show.


TV: Gaiman on American Gods, Season 3

The third season of American Gods, the Starz series based on Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, will debut January 10, 2021. Deadline reported that the new season starts in Chapter Nine of the novel, with Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) "hiding out from the New Gods in a sub-zero Badger State town where mystical forces and the body count both seem to be rising," as the war between Odin's (Ian McShane) Old Gods and the New Gods "has apparently taken on new significance for Gaiman in this year of election."

In a letter about the new season, Gaiman wrote: "When we embarked upon making Season Three of American Gods, we had no idea how timely it would turn out to be.... We knew also that we wanted to continue to root the show in the landscapes of America. To explore what 'America' means to its people and to talk about immigrants--about the very different people who came to this remarkable land and brought their gods with them. The new gods of phone and app and glitter demand our attention and our love, and the old gods want to mean something again.

"America must be for all of us, and American Gods must reflect that. This season truly feels as if it does.... The struggles of the gods and the people in Season Three of American Gods are the struggles of America. We didn't think it would prove as timely when we plotted it, nor did I think the novel would still be relevant when I wrote it over 20 years ago. But I'm glad it's happening now, in a year when it feels as though diverse stories are being heard, and honored, and allowed to change the future."


Books & Authors

Awards: Neustadt International Literature Winner

Cynthia Leitich Smith was named winner of the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature by World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma's magazine of international literature and culture. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the world of children's and YA literature. NSK Neustadt winners receive $35,000, a silver medallion and a certificate of recognition.

Describing the winner as a "powerful and brilliant choice," WLT's executive director R.C. Davis-Undiano said: "Cynthia Leitich Smith is a writer opening doors for other indigenous writers. She is also finding ways to open those doors wider for others to follow her in."

Kathy Neustadt, representing the Neustadt family, made the announcement during the annual Neustadt Lit Fest, which is being held virtually this year, in celebration of Ismail Kadare, winner of the 2020 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The next lit fest will be given in Leitich Smith's honor in the fall of 2021.


Reading with... Corey Sobel

photo: John Michael Kilbane

Corey Sobel's debut novel, The Redshirt (University Press of Kentucky, October 13), sheds new light on the hypermasculine world of American football. Sobel was born in Colorado and spent his childhood moving around the United States with his family of seven. He attended Duke University on a football scholarship and has since researched HIV/AIDS in North Carolina and Kenya, documented wartime human rights abuses on the border of Burma and Thailand, and served as a researcher for international development organizations around the world.

On your nightstand now:

Essays One by Lydia Davis. I love Davis's fiction, and expected to love her essays, too--what I didn't expect was for virtually every piece in this collection to speak to things I'm thinking about as I work on my new novel (the power of fragments in literature, what we mean when we call a work "experimental," how form and feeling relate). This book has become a kind of totem for me over the last months--I'll carry it around even when I know I don't have time to read.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath. If it's not immediately clear, I was a strange, dark kid. I started writing poetry in fourth grade while my family was living in Massachusetts, and somehow found out about Plath. I had my big brother Conor buy me this book the next time we went to the Natick Mall. 

Your top five authors:

José Saramago (favorite novelist), Fernando Pessoa (favorite poet), Henry David Thoreau (favorite essayist), Anne Carson (the author I feel luckiest to be living in the same era as) and Norman Rush (have you read Mortals?).

Book you've faked reading:

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. I adore the first two sections of the book, and have read them each at least five times. But I always run out of steam in the endnotes section--Nabokov said he treated his characters like galley slaves, but it's here I start to have the feeling that the reader is being treated that way, too. This doesn't stop me from opining on the book every chance I get.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I buttonhole people about two books constantly. The first is Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder. Bachelder may be the funniest--and almost certainly the smartest--writer we have when it comes to masculinity, and eventually people are going to realize Abbott Awaits is a modern classic. The Harder They Come by Michael Thelwell is another under-read masterpiece, maybe the best book I've read about music. It doubles as a profound exploration of the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica.

Book you've bought for the cover:

English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. I bought this less for the cover design than for the title, which I found intriguing--how many titles have commas in them? Good thing I did, because this is a truly great, thoroughly hilarious first novel about India's byzantine civil service.

Book you hid from your parents:

Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth. Though my parents were plenty permissive with what I was allowed to read (see Plath), my mom forbade this book. I get why: the transgressive treatment of heterosexual sexuality is as shocking (and thrilling) now as when I snuck it out of a cardboard box in our basement when I was 17.

Book that changed your life:

Ulysses by James Joyce. By high school I had left my poetic self behind to become a fanatical football player. But I still liked to talk about books with my mom--a voracious reader--and in 2000 she mentioned a new Modern Library list that ranked Ulysses as the best novel of the 20th century. Ludicrous as those rankings are, they appealed to how football taught me to see the world, and I was resolved to read this so-called "best book." I devoured Ulysses twice within a couple of months, obsessed by how it was changing the way I viewed language--and myself. It's this book that caused me to want to find a way to get out of football so I could start writing novels.

Favorite line from a book:

"Somebody threw a dead dog after him down the ravine." That's the closing line of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. I gasped when I read it, and will find myself rereading the book's last pages just so I can re-experience the power of that line.

Five books you'll never part with:

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. My copy is missing its front and back covers, and has my name and the year I was given it (Christmas 1986) written in my mom's handwriting. I tear up every time I see that inscription. 

A Free Life by Ha Jin. My family moved constantly when I was a kid, and this is the only book I've read that really gets at how it feels to move to yet another new town, hoping things work out this time.

The Journals of Henry David Thoreau (New York Review of Books edition). This book alters how you experience time passing.

The Professor's House by Willa Cather. Quite possibly my favorite novel--certainly the one I find myself rereading most often.

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Richard Zenith translation). I turn to this unclassifiable work for comfort in the same way I used to turn to the Bible. 

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

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski. I want to relive that heady rush of first encountering a genuinely original narrative voice.

Author you wish more Americans read:

Horacio Castellanos Moya. A Salvadorian novelist who has written two of the most addictive contemporary novels I've read: Senselessness and The Dream of My Return.


Book Review

Children's Review: Amari and the Night Brothers

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston (Balzer + Bray, $17.99 hardcover, 416p., ages 8-12, 9780062975164, January 19, 2021)

Supernatural creatures are hidden in plain sight in B.B. Alston's exhilarating middle-grade fantasy debut.

Thirteen-year-old Amari Peters is obsessed with discovering what happened to her 23-year-old brother, Quinton. He had been working for a mysterious organization and then he simply disappeared. Amari knows it's possible he's dead, but she refuses to believe Quinton might be gone. Amari's faith is rewarded when she receives a magical briefcase that contains clues about the double life Quinton was leading. Turns out, he was a special agent working on a confidential assignment for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, "the link between the known world and the hidden." He has also nominated Amari to attend an elite summer camp that prepares children to become junior agents in the Bureau. Hoping to learn more about her brother's world, Amari attends the camp and is introduced to the paranormal, such as were-dragons and teens with superhuman strength. She also learns that "every drop" of her blood is magical--a situation so improbable, the adults at the camp believe it could have come about only through nefarious means. "The Bureau isn't against objects being too magical," they explain, "It's against people being too magical." Amari becomes determined to learn everything she can about her powers--how is it possible she is supernatural?--and to bring her brother home alive.

The definitive hook of this narrative is Alston's exceptional skill for world building. Humans work alongside mystical beings in bureaucratic departments such as the Department of Supernatural Health, the Department of the Unexplained and the Department of Good Omens and Bad Fortunes. Amari--despite her unexplained magic--has a practical, non-magical background that provides a realistic undercurrent to the supernatural elements. Additionally, once Amari is publicly exposed as having a taboo talent in the supernatural world, parallels begin to emerge between her experience growing up poor and Black and being an outcast among her otherworldly peers: "Where I'm from that happens a lot--you get labeled as bad or scary just by how you look or what neighborhood you're in." While the rapid plot pacing at times detracts from the inventive nuances, fans of the Harry Potter series will likely find much to enjoy in Alston's imaginary Bureau, which features significantly more authentic diversity than Rowling's Hogwarts.

Amari stumbles into one capricious adventure after another en route to a stunning conclusion that also lays the track for a sequel to this breakout debut. --Rachel Werner, Hugo House and The Loft Literary Center faculty

Shelf Talker: In this fantastical middle-grade read, a strong-willed tween on a quest to find her brother learns she has magical powers.


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