Also published on this date: Monday, November 30, 2020: Maximum Shelf: Finding Freedom

Shelf Awareness for Monday, November 30, 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


An Indies First/Small Business Saturday Like No Other

If ever there was a year when Indies First/Small Business Saturday might present obstacles too great to overcome, 2020 would have been it. But as they have since last spring, independent booksellers played the hand they'd been dealt by the Covid-19 pandemic and found creative ways to celebrate anyway. 

Indies First 2020 spokesperson Dan Rather tweeted: "Folks, INDIE BOOKSTORES are invaluable pillars of local communities. Many are struggling. Please support them during this crucial holiday shopping season. TODAY, #SmallBusinessSaturday is a great day to do it."

At Let's Play Books in Emmaus, Pa.

"It is Small Business Saturday--and boy does it look different this year!" Let's Play Books, Emmaus, Pa., posted on Facebook. "We hope you and your loved ones are shopping local this year, and of course, safely. Our independent shops need your business, but we also can't accommodate loads of people at one time. However, thanks to Emmaus Main Street Partners, and today's lovely mild weather, you can walk around town and get a feel for the shops that are here for you this holiday season."

In Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Kona Stories shared a video: "Welcome to Small Business Saturday... pandemic style!" Co-owner Brenda McConnell told West Hawaii Today: "The major difference is we're not trying to have so many people at one time in the store. We're trying to encourage people to shop local, shop often--but don't all come on one day."

Former President Barack Obama, a longtime supporter of books and booksellers, noted: "While in office, one of our family's traditions was visiting a couple of nearby small businesses for Small Business Saturday--and we'd always make a stop at a bookstore to find some books to read for the holidays. Although everyone's traditions might look different this year, we can still find ways to support these terrific small businesses. So I hope you'll take a minute to order a book online from an independent bookstore near you."

Also offering her support was former First Lady Michelle Obama, who gave a shoutout to indies: "One thing I’ll always remember from my #IAmBecoming tour is seeing the crucial role that independent bookstores play in so many communities. On this Small Business Saturday, show your support by ordering a book from an independent bookstore online."

Taking advantage of mild weather, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, Conn., hosted an outdoor signing for Jeff Benedict, author of The Dynasty.

In New York City, local politicians showed up at the Strand: "Talk about a #SmallBusinessSaturday surprise! Mayor Bill de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and other city officials came to The Strand to pick up some fresh reads and encourage everyone to #ShopLocal. Thank you NYC Mayor's Office for supporting our local #NYC businesses and visiting The Strand." De Blasio bought Obama's A Promised Land.

And in Perrysburg, Ohio, Gathering Volumes' "first #SmallBusinessSaturday customer was none other than the @mayor_of_perrysburg! We are so appreciative of the support from our local officials!"

Bookseller @mattiereads showing off her Libro.Fm sweatshirt.

To encourage readers to #ShopLocalBookstores, offered a free bestselling audiobook to anyone who spent at least $15 at a local bookstore over the holiday weekend. As of noon Sunday, had given away more than 2,000 audiobooks and driven over $100,000 in sales at local bookstores, with nearly $50,000 of sales occurring on Indies First/Small Business Saturday. The promotion started last Wednesday and runs through Cyber Monday.

This was the first Small Business Saturday for the recently opened Beausoleil Books in Lafayette, La. Describing the community as "really awesome and supportive" of the store, including on its first Small Business Saturday, owner Bryan Dupree told KATC News: "People have been ordering online to pick up, those who don't want to come into the store, which has been great. But we had a good amount of traffic in the store. People are coming in and buying unique books and gifts. We're very excited about it. It has been awesome."

Noting that small business owners in Naperville, Ill., "rely on the holiday shopping season for a good chunk of their annual sales," the Chicago Tribune spoke with Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson's Bookshops, who said: "For a lot of us, that last quarter of the year can be 40% to 50% of sales. The mantra my grandma had was 'support local business'.... We're all doing what we can to to get through this. The survival of small businesses is essential."

Celebrating at Harriett's Bookshop in Phliadelphia

The true spirit of Indies First/Small Business Saturday may have been summed up best by a series of Facebook posts from Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett's Bookshop, Philadelphia, Pa.: "This year for my birthday (which just happens to fall on Small Business Saturday), I want to give the gifts. That's why you can add a FREE children's book of your choosing to ANY in store purchase today. My goal is to give away 100 FREE children's books.... Wow! 100 books out to the children in our community in less than 2 hours. Yall be showing out.... Thank you all for making it the best birthday EVAH!"

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

#IndiesFirst on #SmallBusinessSaturday: Thanks for 'Keeping the Dream Alive'

At Curious Iguana, Frederick, Md.

Indie booksellers took to social media as #IndiesFirst on #SmallBusinessSaturday came to an end to express gratitude to communities across the country for stepping up to support independent bookstores in perilous, yet somehow hopeful, times. Here's a sampling:

Next Page Books, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: "Thanks, Cedar Rapids, for keeping the dream alive. I'm exhausted, overwhelmed, and grateful for your support today (and every day). I'm gonna have a stiff drink and then head home and crash. But we'll start 'er back up again in the morning. In the meantime, thank you, thank you, thank you. You rock!"

The Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne, Vt.: "Thank you, wonderful friends and community members, for making this a fun and hopping Small Business Saturday! We love being part of your neighborhood. A big flap o' the wings to you!"

At Bookish, Fort Smith, Ark.

The Ivy Bookshop, Baltimore, Md.: "Taking a deep, grateful breath at the end of Small Business Saturday 2020. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who browsed, picked up, called, ordered online, and cheered us on today--and every day. Being a local bookstore is always a team effort, but that fact has never felt truer than in this moment. May all the books that found new homes today be reminders that this reading community is as vibrant as ever. We appreciate you."

The Green Toad Bookstore, Oneonta, N.Y.: "It's the Season! Thank you to all our loyal customers that help support us. It has been great to see so many familiar and new faces this small business Saturday. We appreciate the support of Oneonta and the surrounding areas that help make our store special."

Bookish, Fort Smith, Ark.: "Thank you @shopsmall and @646downtown. Our support today has been amazing!"

Small World Books, Venice, Calif.: "Thanks to all our customers who supported us this Small Business Saturday and every other day of this tough year! We appreciate it more than we can express. You allow us to do what we love!"

At Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, Fla.: "WOW! Small Business Saturday was amazing and we cannot thank you enough for your support. Co-owner Candice and Bookseller/Book Club Coordinator Claire were recommending reads and wrapping gifts all day--and we are inspired and ready for another busy day in St. Pete. From the bottom of our book loving hearts, thank you so much for making this bookstore dream a vibrant reality."

Turning Page Bookshop, Goose Creek, S.C.: "Thank you so much for supporting my small business bookstore. I just loved the new friends and customers I met. It was the best day ever!"

Whistlestop Bookshop, Carlisle, Pa.: "Small Business Saturday was wild in the best respects. From a line of people as I opened up to 3:15 p.m. when the store was briefly empty, many many people came out to shop small, shop local, and support their independents.... Thank you to everyone who made Whistlestop part of their day! Four weeks 'til Christmas!

At Bluestockings, New York City

Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, Conn.: "Another Small Business Saturday in the bag, and a very successful one it was too--thank you to everyone who shopped in store, online or by phone! Your support of local independent stores is truly appreciated. This morning was extra special because we had our first official book signing event since March! "

Gathering Volumes, Perrysburg, Ohio: "Thank you to everyone who #shoppedsmall on #SmallBusinessSaturday and especially to those that supported Gathering Volumes! Whether it was online, over the phone, or in person, you all made our bookselling hearts swell today. Thank you again and again. Thank you also for wearing masks and wearing them properly. We did not have a single person come in the store without a mask on correctly, making everyone's experience better. Thank you again!"

Neighborhood Reads, Washington, Mo.: "Thank you. As the sun sets on Small Business Saturday 2020, we are so grateful to our community for your support today--in store and online."

At Inkwood Books, Haddonfield, N.J.

Inkwood Books, Haddonfield, N.J.: "We couldn't offer you cookies or cocktails, bins of free stuff, or the attentive customer service of Small Business Saturdays past. We couldn't even provide a working website. But you all came anyway. You waited in long lines to get in, you found books without any help, called and e-mailed your orders, and never once complained. To all of you who came out today, and all of you who have shopped and supported us during these difficult times, THANK YOU! You are the heart our bookstore and we really felt the love today."

City Books, Pittsburgh, Pa: "I want to thank everyone for making today such a great #SmallBusinessSaturday under the worst of circumstances. It certainly was not a record, but it did exceed our expectations. We love our readers!!!"

Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan.: "It's been so hard this year in so many ways, but we've been buoyed by your love and willingness to follow us as we get creative trying to keep everyone safe. Thank you for supporting us, and thank you for supporting small businesses."

Wheatberry Books, Chillicothe, Ohio: "Yesterday was the most magical Small Business Saturday. Let's do it again today!"

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

PRH/S&S: Negative Reactions from the ABA, Authors Guild; Dohle's View

Reaction in major parts of the book world to the announcement last Wednesday that Bertelsmann, parent company of Penguin Random House, will buy Simon & Schuster for $2.175 billion has been mainly negative, with concerns about a further consolidation of the big U.S. publishing houses and its effect on authors, independent bookselling and the kinds of books published. For its part, PRH said that its market share isn't as large as estimated, that it will keep S&S's editorial identity and that the deal is a sign of its commitment to book publishing.

Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said in Bookselling This Week that the ABA will urge the Justice Department "to challenge this deal and to ensure that no further consolidation of power be allowed in the U.S. book publishing industry." She called the sale "alarming. As the dominant player in the publishing industry, PRH's purchase of another 'Big 5' publisher, further reducing the market to the 'Big 4,' will mean too much power over authors and readers in the hands of a single corporation."

Hill added that earlier this month, in reaction to the proposed sale of S&S, she had sent a letter to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission saying that if S&S were bought by Ingram, Amazon or any of the other Big Five publishers, "the consolidation of publishing that this sale could represent threatens to undermine competition in the book industry, harm the interests of American consumers, and put bookstores and authors at risk."

The Authors Guild also called on the Justice Department "to challenge" the deal and "refuse to allow even further consolidation of the U.S. book publishing industry."

The Guild said that if approved, the purchase would further reduce "competition in an already sparse, competitive environment. For authors, it would mean there would be fewer competing bidders for their manuscripts, which would inevitably drive down advances offered.

"Less competition would make it even more difficult for agents and authors to negotiate for better deals, or for the Authors Guild to help secure changes to standard publishing contracts--because authors, even bestselling authors, wouldn't have many options, making it harder to walk away. The history of publishing consolidation has also taught us that authors are further hurt by such mergers due to editorial layoffs, canceling of contracts, a reduction in diversity among authors and ideas, a more conservative approach to risk-taking, and fewer imprints under which an author may publish."

Markus Dohle

In several interviews, PRH CEO Markus Dohle defended the acquisition, pointing to the successful merging of Penguin and Random House operations after 2013, and disputed estimates that a PRH/S&S combination would control as much as 50% of the U.S. trade book market. "We are much smaller than people think we are," Dohle told the Bookseller. Including print book sales, audio and e-book formats and self-published titles, he said PRH's market share is 14.2% and S&S's is 4.2%. "It is under 20% in the U.S., that's the point," he said. "I'm very confident, otherwise I wouldn't have signed the contract."

He added that larger publishers had lost market share to smaller ones in recent years, and that for PRH, the acquisition of S&S replaces that lost market share. He also described the publishing sector as "very fragmented and un-concentrated compared to other media markets."

Dohle told the New York Times that S&S will retain its editorial identity, noting that PRH imprints compete with one another for books. "We've done this before, so we have proof of concept," he said. "We keep the creative side of the business basically untouched." He added that concerns about the purchase creating what the Times called "a competition-stifling monopoly" are based on "politics and perception," not data.

Dohle told the Bookseller that the deal shows Bertelsmann's commitment to book publishing. "We know how to do this; we are good industry citizens. For my retail friends, who are under pressure, the only goal we have is to increase our service levels again, with lower returns and lower inventory levels and to make you more profitable again. I want to grow, and I have a growth strategy. But size is not the goal in and of itself; we can create the future of books and reading for generations to come, and [this deal means] we can now do it even better than before."

Shelf Awareness Delivers Indie Pre-Order E-Blast

Last Wednesday, Shelf Awareness sent our monthly pre-order e-blast to more than two-thirds of a million of the country's best book readers. The e-blast went to 692,112 customers of 147 participating independent bookstores.

The mailing features eight upcoming titles selected by Shelf Awareness editors and a sponsored title. Customers can buy these books via "pre-order" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on each sending store's website. A key feature is that bookstore partners can easily change title selections to best reflect the tastes of their customers and can customize the mailing with links, images and promotional copy of their own.

The pre-order e-blasts are sent the last Wednesday of each month; the next will go out on Wednesday, December 23. Stores interested in learning more can visit our program registration page or contact our partner program team via e-mail.

For a sample of yesterday's pre-order e-blast, see this one from Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City, Iowa.


Happy 15th Birthday, BooksActually!

Congratulations to BooksActually in Singapore, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary. In September, after being closed for several months because of the pandemic, BooksActually became an online-only store.

In a letter to customers, owner Kenny Leck wrote about the anniversary: "If you'd told me in the 1st year that we'd reach this point, I would have been half skeptical and half delusional. And if you'd told me at the start of 2020 that we'd be an online bookstore instead of a physical bookstore, I would have equally laughed and farted in your face. But hey, as Joni Mitchell would sing, I have seen 'Both Sides' now, and I can't possibly be any more thankful for that. I have made many friends, burnt some bridges, made mistakes, made even graver mistakes but I got through all of it with my team and the people around me.

"As I type this now, I no longer have to 'work' on the weekends or at least, I don't need to be physically standing at the counter, trying to do this thing called bookselling. Now I do that bookselling behind a screen, while watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix.

"2020 has been an odd year. What's ahead? I want to be the Amazon of Southeast Asia but it'd be a BooksActually with a lot more heart, hell-bent on beefing up the bottomline but even more hell-bent on giving it away after the bills are paid. Our motto is to be like Keanu Reeves. To give away as much as what we earn. We only want to hoard books. Happy 15th Birthday, my teenage BooksActually."

Bookstore Video: Eagle Eye Book Shop

"Shop Small during the pandemic!" advised Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, Ga., in a funny new video, noting: "Tired of going from one place to another and using enough sanitizer to sanitize a large elephant? Shop in one place and get gift wrapping while supporting local and small business! It is safer and easier to shop small. No elephants were harmed in the making of this video!"

New Canadian Distributor for University of Minnesota Press

The University of Minnesota Press (UMP) is now being distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press Distribution (UTP Distribution). UMP had been distributed in Canada by the Chicago Distribution Center (CDC), which remains UMP's distributor for the U.S. market.

University of Minnesota Press titles supplied to the Canadian market by CDC can be returned either to UTP Distribution or CDC until April 1, 2021. UMP and UTP Distribution will be offering a special 5% discount on orders of any size to independent bookstores through the end of 2020 to celebrate the new partnership.

UMP director Douglas Armato commented: "We feel a true alliance with our customers and authors in Canada, with whom we share so much--a common culture, habitat, First Peoples land and heritage, and shared concerns for equity and social justice. This partnership with our friends at the University of Toronto Press will allow us to serve Canadian scholars, students, libraries, and bookstores much more smoothly, efficiently, and economically."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Neal Gabler on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Neal Gabler, author of Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932-1975 (Crown, $40, 9780307405449).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Barack Obama, author of A Promised Land (Crown, $45, 9781524763169).

Jimmy Kimmel Live: Natalie Portman, co-author of Natalie Portman's Fables (Feiwel & Friends, $19.99, 9781250246868).

Late Night with Seth Meyers repeat: Yaa Gyasi, author of Transcendent Kingdom (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525658184).

Today Show: Kathie Lee, author of It's Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life (Thomas Nelson, $26.99, 9780785236641).

The View: Michael Eric Dyson, author of Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America (St. Martin's Press, $25.99, 9781250276759).

Late Late Show with James Corden: John Lithgow, author of Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown: Verses for a Despotic Age (Chronicle, $22.95, 9781797209463).

Tonight Show: Andrew Cuomo, author of American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic (Crown, $30, 9780593239261).

Movies: Leading Men

Playwright Matthew López (The Inheritance) will write a film adaptation of Christopher Castellani's novel Leading Men, which centers on playwright Tennessee Williams and his longtime partner Frank Merlo, for Searchlight Pictures, Variety reported. The film is produced by Luca Guadagnino and Peter Spears, who previously teamed for Call Me By Your Name.

There is currently no director attached to the project. Searchlight's senior v-p of production and acquisitions Katie Goodson-Thomas, v-p of production Taylor Friedman and creative director Pete Spencer will represent the studio on the film.

Books & Authors

Awards: Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Winner

The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili, translated from German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin (Scribe U.S.), has won the £1,000 (about $1,330) Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.

One of the judges, Boyd Tonkin, called The Eighth Life "an absolute feast of a novel: a journey across Georgia's 20th century through several generations of the same sprawling clan. Nino Haratischvili's story-telling has an epic, Tolstoyan scope that blends broad historical vision with a touching, intimate attention to the joys and sorrows of family life. Translators Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin do splendid justice both to the big picture, and the fine detail."

Book Review

Review: The House on Vesper Sands

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell (Tin House, $26.95 hardcover, 408p., 9781951142247, January 12, 2021)

London, 1893: There's murder with a supernatural aspect afoot. The man on the beat has a high opinion of himself, a disarming sidekick and what one citizen calls "a weakness for certain exotic cases." No, The House on Vesper Sands is not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but Paraic O'Donnell's sophomore effort is the next best thing.

The novel opens on a snowy night as a seamstress reports for duty at the home of Lord Strythe, the Earl of Maundley. Alone in the workroom, she uses a pilfered key to open a strongbox from which she removes three stoppered bottles. She throws the bottles, and then herself, out the window. The autopsy yields something remarkable: a cryptic phrase is embroidered directly on her skin.

That same night, Gideon Bliss arrives at the London boardinghouse of his uncle, Reverend Doctor Herbert Neuilly, who has written to summon his nephew from Cambridge for a reason undisclosed. Not finding his uncle at home, Bliss takes shelter at a church, where he encounters Angela Tatton, a flower maker he befriended when he was last in London. Tatton is behaving strangely, as though she has been drugged. Before Bliss can fetch a doctor, he gets knocked out. When he wakes the next morning, Tatton is gone.

Bliss returns to his uncle's boardinghouse; still the man is not at home. In an act of subterfuge wildly out of character for a mild-mannered lapsed divinity student, Bliss poses as the officer assigned to the Metropolitan Police's Inspector Henry Cutter, another lodger. Bliss intends to convince Cutter to look into the disappearances of his uncle and Tatton. That Bliss is ill-suited for fighting crime isn't lost on Cutter. "You have the constitution of a consumptive poet" is among the gentler insults he lobs at Bliss.

O'Donnell, an Irish novelist who makes his U.S. debut with The House on Vesper Sands, brings his story's humor and darker themes into richly rewarding alignment. Adding both pep and gravitas to the story is Octavia Hillingdon, who has the audacity to ride a bicycle around Victorian London and dream of writing something besides the Ladies' Page for the Mayfair Gazette. Soon she will be investigating what one lowbrow newspaper calls the "shadowy malefactors" who are targeting young women in London. " 'Shadowy malefactors,' indeed," Hillingdon scoffs. "It is like something from a bad novel." The House on Vesper Sands is a very good one. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: This mystery, which revolves around the victimization of young working-class women, is set in Sherlock Holmes's place and time but told on gifted novelist Paraic O'Donnell's own terms.

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