Also published on this date: Monday, December 14, 2020: Maximum Shelf: Already Toast

Shelf Awareness for Monday, December 14, 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


Bookshop Santa Cruz Employees Organize to Form Union

A group of booksellers and other non-managerial staff at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., are seeking to establish a union that would be affiliated with the Communication Workers of America Local 9423. In announcing its mission statement last Thursday, the organizing committee said, "We felt we could garner greater support as a collective rather than as individuals. 2020 has been a difficult year for small businesses everywhere and we hope to collaborate with management to create a sustainable path forward for one of the only independent bookstores in the area." The organizing committee has an online petition to support its efforts.

In its announcement, the group wrote that Bookshop Santa Cruz workers are not currently offered health insurance and "have concerns about the management's inconsistent communication regarding health and safety at the store, as well as concerns about the rising cost of living in Santa Cruz and the sustainability of the store. [Our] mission statement focuses on job security, an option for healthcare, and additional employee support systems."

They continued: "A previous collective action by Bookshop employees involved asking the management for measurable protections, such as Plexiglass screens and mask monitoring, when the store reopened after the Spring lockdown. While some managers have been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, several of the public-facing workers have asthma or other health conditions and were only given permission to work off the sales floor after prolonged self-advocating. The employees have also received inconsistent levels of communication about potential staff Covid-19 exposure. Since the beginning of the pandemic, several employees left due to health concerns; multiple employees or their loved ones have contracted Covid-19 from contacts outside the store."

Casey Coonerty Protti

In an open letter to the community sent Friday, Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Casey Coonerty Protti said that the store would honor the results of a union election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (the organizing committee had asked for voluntary recognition) and that, "as a store with a 54-year legacy of progressive management, mission, and values, Bookshop will continue to be committed to sustainable business that values our employees and the community we serve."

She outlined the difficult year the store has had because of the pandemic, with a loss of "over $1 million in sales" and sales down 15%-50% every month since the pandemic began. "Through it all, we have committed ourselves to protecting the safety of our employees and our customers first and foremost while still working to employ our booksellers. We also strove to listen to our employees' needs during this time and changed policies and procedures after getting feedback, to the betterment of everyone at Bookshop."

Protti wrote that the store is proud "that through the entire pandemic period we never laid off an employee, we did not reduce hours or wages, we increased benefits and provided hazard pay when we obtained Federal PPP funding. We also are proud that we not only met CDC and County Health Guidelines in terms of safety protocols but exceeded them." As examples, she said that store has paid full wages for any staff (full or part time) who has any one symptom, regardless of exposure, so that they could stay home; has notified all staff of potential exposure prior to a positive Covid test; and voluntarily reduced capacity to below retail guidelines before the stay-at-home order was put in place in Santa Cruz County. She noted, too, that she hasn't taken a salary during the pandemic except for the eight weeks of PPP funding "in order to preserve bookseller jobs."

Calling Bookshop Santa Cruz's booksellers "the heart of the store," Protti said that in part in recognition of the area being an expensive place to live, "for the last 10 years, Bookshop made a commitment of putting our profits back into payroll and benefits for our staff, which resulted in doubling our entry level wage during that time and ensuring our minimum wage was always well above state guidelines."

She concluded: "We are the first to admit that there are challenges to creating a great workplace, especially as an independent bookstore working on the slimmest of margins and in the midst of crisis. We are constantly working with staff to identify structural deficiencies in the organization that are in need of attention and improvement. As we always have and even before this organizing effort, we listen to the needs and struggles of our employees and their ideas to improve their workplace and we encourage you to listen to their message as well. Bookshop is committed to always trying to improve, running the best independent bookstore we can for our community and for our hardworking staff. That includes finding a sustainable business model, supporting our employees, and meeting the needs of our customers."

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

International Update: Another 'Hard' Lockdown in Germany; Greek Bookshops to Reopen

German booksellers were in the midst of "a pre-Christmas bonanza," sparking optimism that a difficult 2020 could still end on a positive note, the Bookseller reported. But yesterday the federal government and state minister presidents announced that the country will undergo another "hard lockdown" that will begin this Wednesday, December 16, and last until January 10, according to Börsenblatt.

Under the new lockdown, the few businesses deemed essential enough to be allowed to stay open include food stores, drugstores, gas stations, banks, and Christmas tree sellers. The government leaders also announced a variety of financial support for affected businesses.

Sales had been down 13% year on year for the first four months of 2020 when bookshops reopened at the end of April after five weeks in lockdown, according to Media Control. By the end of November, the deficit was just 1.8% for the overall market, which includes chains and independent bookstores as well as travel stores and e-commerce. For the three weeks to December 6, growth week on week was 13.7%, 14.2% and 10.45%, respectively.


Greece will allow bookshops and hair salons to reopen during the Christmas season, but keep most other retail shops shut, continuing most of the Covid-19 restrictions the government imposed in November until January 7, Reuters reported.

Booktalks in Athens "opens its doors Monday morning, strictly for book sale," the bookseller posted on Facebook. "Four people are allowed inside the store, with all necessary measures, masks (yes, with nose inside), distances, and antiseptics.... Shipping continues to be free.... Let's all be healthy."

Another Athens bookshop, Booktique, noted: "We set up, decorated, got Christmas masks, will be parfumed and ready to welcome you.... Ask us for whatever cheer you up, we'll find it, prepare your order, wrap your gifts, (thoughtful and sorted, not funny) and you only come pick them up (and pay, duh. Nothing is free).... Arm yourself with love and patience, prepare your lists and contact us! Happy Holidays to all."

"Our dear friends, our dear friends, our great pleasure to see you again tomorrow!" Free Thinking Zone, Athens, posted. "However, there are a few restrictions to follow and so we ask for your help, so we can serve you all properly, stay safe and don't have trouble.... We understand that this whole process is unpleasant and you are very tired, but we are close to the end of this adventure. With a little attention even lifting each other up and each other, we will make it to the finish together! Good power and happy holidays!"


In Canada, Quill & Quire highlighted five ways this year's holiday window at Toronto's Type Books "delivers magic in the midst of a lockdown," noting that the bookseller "is quite literally shining some light with its annual Christmas window."

For this year's theme, Paul Dotey, bookseller, illustrator and designer of Type's windows, "thought about the 'Santa tracker' that would flash across the evening news on Christmas Eve, alerting viewers to Santa's international progress. It was a clever way to incorporate Type co-owner Joanne Saul's cardinal Christmas window rule: lights are a must," Q&Q noted.

"That is always a nice challenge, to build in some sort of pyrotechnic display," said Dotey. "We've got a string of Christmas lights in patterns tracking Santa's path." --Robert Gray

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

John Freeman Joins Knopf as an Executive Editor

John Freeman

John Freeman is joining Knopf as an executive editor, effective March 15. Most recently the executive editor of Lit Hub, Freeman is the former editor of Granta and the founder of Freeman's, a literary annual published in several countries around the world.

"I've long admired John's achievements as an editor and writer, and I can't wait for him to bring his excellent, adventurous, wide-ranging taste to our list, where he'll be acquiring fiction, nonfiction, and poetry," said Reagan Arthur, executive v-p, publisher of Knopf, Pantheon and Schocken, to whom he will report.

Since 2014, Freeman has edited a series of anthologies about inequality, concluding with Tales of Two Planets (published in August by Penguin Books), which focuses on the climate crisis and global inequality. He edited The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story and coedited There's a Revolution Outside, My Love, both forthcoming in 2021 (the latter from Vintage). He has written three books of nonfiction and two collections of poetry, and his work has been translated into more than 20 languages. He is also an artist-in-residence at New York University.

Obituary Note: John le Carré

John le Carré 
(photo:Nadav Kander)

John le Carré, the master of Cold War spy novels that were thoughtful, densely plotted, elegantly written and explored ideology, history, language, and the interplay between politics and psychology, died on Saturday of pneumonia. He was 89.

His Cold War thrillers "elevated the spy novel to high art by presenting both Western and Soviet spies as morally compromised cogs in a rotten system full of treachery, betrayal and personal tragedy," the New York Times wrote. He "portrayed British intelligence operations as cesspools of ambiguity in which right and wrong are too close to call and in which it is rarely obvious whether the ends, even if the ends are clear, justify the means."

Born David Cornwell, le Carré worked in MI6, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, and its domestic version, MI5, for 16 years. For a time he was a spy in West Germany, with the cover of a diplomat, running agents and more--all of which became fertile ground for his burgeoning career as a spy novel writer.

The best known of his more than two dozen books were set in Britain's MI6, "the Circus," forever at war with its Soviet counterpart, "Moscow Centre," with many of their battles played out in divided Germany. Most of the titles starred George Smiley, a taciturn, brilliant, methodical, dour, honorable, unassuming spymaster, betrayed by colleagues and his wife, and an aficionado of German literature and language; his Centre nemesis was Karla, who in many ways was more like Smiley than any other le Carré character.

Le Carré created a world in which, the Times wrote, "agents were 'joes,' operations involving seduction were 'honeytraps' and agents deeply embedded inside the enemy were 'moles,' a word he is credited with bringing into wide use if not inventing it. Such expressions were taken up by real British spies to describe their work, much as the Mafia absorbed the language of The Godfather into their mythology."

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, published in 1963 and le Carré's third novel, became an international bestseller, and was followed by, among others, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People, also known as the Karla Trilogy. One of Sir Alec Guinness's most memorable roles was as Smiley in the BBC TV miniseries of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley's People (1982). Sadly for fans, le Carré said that Guinness played Smiley so well, taking over the character, that he could no longer write books featuring Smiley in the same way--and Smiley appeared only tangentially in several later books.

With the semi-retirement of the character Smiley and the end of the Cold War, le Carré developed new characters, set his books in different places, including Africa, post-Soviet Russia, and Central America, and investigated big pharma, money laundering and more. Among those titles were The Constant Gardener, Our Kind of TraitorThe Night Manager and The Tailor of Panama. In addition, The Little Drummer Girl, published in 1983, was, the Times wrote, "about an undercover operation by a passionate young actress-turned spy; the book performs the seemingly impossible trick of evoking genuine sympathy for both the Israeli and Palestinian points of view."

A Perfect Spy (1986), "le Carré's most autobiographical work, tells the story of Magnus Pym, a double agent with a con man father modeled after le Carré's own, and how the two deceive and are deceived by each other in an intricate skein of lies," the Times observed.

In later years, le Carré and his books became more straightforwardly political. He was vehemently against spy agency torture, the post-9/11 "war on terror" and Brexit. His most recent titles, both published in the U.S. by Viking, were The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (2016), an autobiography, and Agent Running in the Field (2019), a spy thriller set in the world of the Circus in the present day.

Although le Carré refused to let his books be considered for literary awards, this year he accepted the Olof Palme Prize for his "extraordinary contribution to the necessary fight for freedom, democracy and social justice" and donated his $100,000 award to Médecins Sans Frontières. And in 2011, he accepted the Goethe Medal, given to non-Germans who "have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural dialogue."

As recounted by the Guardian, the Goethe Institut, which awards the Medal, said, "Fifty years after the Berlin Wall was built, 20 years after the end of the Soviet Union and 10 years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, there could be no better moment than this to pay tribute to this extraordinary achievement of John le Carré with the Goethe Medal. Viewing language and knowledge of a country as a prerequisite for penetrating world history and understanding ideologies, religions and peoples--these are the aspects that characterise the life's work of John le Carré.... His novels, whose themes revolve around the contrasts between east and west and the cold war, captivate the reader with their painstaking psychological depiction of the characters and their wealth of historical details. Le Carré broke with stereotypical viewpoints and criticised the betrayal of western ideals."

The Goethe Institut also called le Carré "Great Britain's most famous German speaker" and said he "has always been convinced that language learning is the key to understanding foreign cultures."

Speaking at a Think German conference in 2010, the Guardian noted, le Carré said that for most of his "conscious childhood Germany had been the rogue elephant in the drawing room. Germans were murderous fellows. They had bombed one of my schools (which I did not entirely take amiss); they had bombed my grandparents' tennis court, which was very serious, and I was terrified of them. But in my rebellious adolescent state, a country that had been so thoroughly bad was also by definition worth examining. Also, one of the few things I had enjoyed about my schooling had been the German language, with which my tongue had formed a natural, friendly relationship."


Sea Howl Bookshop's 'Nifty Little Take-Out Window'

Sea Howl Bookshop, Orleans, Mass., shared a photo on Facebook of the shop's "nifty little 'take-out' window. Now serving books & fried clams! THANK YOU to all our customers for adapting along with us, placing online orders for pickup and even shopping for books and holiday cards through this little window. We've made it work! Inside the shop we've been busy bees receiving and shipping orders but looking forward to seeing customers in the shop again this weekend!"



Personnel Changes at McFarland

Stephanie Nichols has been promoted to sales & publicity specialist at McFarland.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Elaine Welteroth on the Drew Barrymore Show

Drew Barrymore Show: Elaine Welteroth, author of More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) (Penguin Books, $17, 9780525561613).

Ellen repeat: Matthew McConaughey, author of Greenlights (Crown, $30, 9780593139134).

TV: The Poppy War

Peter Luo's Starlight Media is teaming with SA Inc to develop and finance Rebecca F. Kuang's series of fantasy novels (The Poppy War, Dragon Republic, The Burning God) for television, Deadline reported.

Luo said, "The combination of a strong female teenager protagonist, an inspiring theme of an outcast fighting for recognition, and a compelling historical military fantasy grounded in the history of China make this an epic TV package with inbuilt charm that plays universally. We are excited to be adapting the rich and fantastical world that R.F. Kuang has so vividly created."

Books & Authors

Awards: An Post Irish Book of the Year

Doireann Ní Ghríofa won the An Post Irish Book of the Year 2020 for A Ghost in the Throat. The winner, chosen by a combination of an online public vote and an equally-weighted academy vote, bested competition from 13 other category winners at the recent An Post Irish Book Awards.

John Treacy, chairperson of the An Post Irish Book Awards, said: "Doireann Ní Ghríofa's A Ghost in the Throat made an immediate impact in the Irish book trade on publication. It's an amazing thing for an established poet to suddenly produce such an accomplished and interesting piece of work as her prose debut. It's a beautifully produced book too and Tramp Press deserve great credit for their unerring eye in seeking out original material to publish."

Ní Ghríofa commented: "I’m overjoyed with this spectacular award! A Ghost in the Throat is a telling of my story, but it also tells the story of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, and I’m so thankful to all the readers who have taken both of us into their hearts. I accept this award with deep gratitude to each and every one of you. Míle buíochas libh go léir."

Top Library Recommended Titles for 2020

LibraryReads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, offers the top 10 titles public library staff across the country love. These are their Favorites of Favorites choices for 2020:

The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett (Riverhead, $27, 9780525536291). "Centering on two twin light-skinned black girls who grew up in a strange town in the Jim Crow South, this book explores racism, colorism, sexism, and familial relationships through the interweaving storylines of vivid and complicated characters. For fans of Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson." --Pamela Gardner, Medfield Public Library, Medfield, Mass.

Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrik Backman (Atria, $28, 9781501160837). "What happens when a group of house hunters is taken hostage by an incompetent bank robber? Not what you expect. Filled with quirky, troubled characters, Backman's latest shows us what most people need is kindness, understanding and one another." --Janine Walsh, East Meadow Public Library, East Meadow, N.Y.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, $32, 9780593230251). "A magisterial overview of how caste has been implemented in three different places. This is an important look at how the U.S., Nazi Germany, and India implemented caste and how it affects each country. Don't think that this is a dry academic read; Wilkerson is a genius with words and incorporates her own experiences throughout the book. For readers of Stamped and The New Jim Crow." --Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, Va.

Dear Edward: A Novel by Ann Napolitano (The Dial Press, $27, 9781984854780). "A dear, dear wonderous novel. Edward is The Miracle Boy, the only survivor of a plane crash. As he struggles to navigate the landscape of his new life, we hear the voices of those who didn't make it. Napolitano is an amazing writer who deserves a wider audience. For fans of Did You Ever Have a Family (Bill Clegg), The Grief of Others (Leah Hager Cohen), and The Friend (Sigrid Nunez)." --Jennifer Dayton, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, Conn.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (Tor, $26.99, 9780765387561). "Addie is an adventurer and not ready to settle for village life, so she makes a deal with the devil. Instead of relinquishing her soul, however, she becomes immortal, and also completely forgotten by anyone who meets her. Then, after a lonely 300 years, she meets Henry. For fans of the Shades of Magic series, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Life after Life." --Patti Lang, Pima County Public Library, Tucson, Ariz.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey, $27, 9780525620785). "A perfect gothic mystery with an updated sensibility that will appeal to the modern reader. Noemí is a Mexico City socialite in the 1950s. When her father receives a disturbing letter from his niece, he sends Noemí to check on her cousin at the remote house where she is living--a grotesque and rotting English-style mansion, built on dirt imported from England by the colonialist eugenicist family she has married into. Lush descriptions and the creepy atmosphere make this a good choice for readers who liked The Witch Elm, The Little Stranger, or The Haunting of Hill House." --Lorena Neal, Evanston Public Library, Evanston, Ill.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Viking, $26, 9780525559474). "At a seminal moment in her life, Nora visits a unique library. Every book she chooses is one that she becomes part of and is a possible life she might have led. There are adventures, close calls, and joy. Give this totally engrossing page turner to fans of Here and Now and Then (Chen) and Life after Life (Atkinson)." --Deborah Margeson, Douglas County Libraries, Castle Rock, Colo.

My Dark Vanessa: A Novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell (Morrow, $27.99, 9780062941503). "A Lolita for the #MeToo era, it's unsettling, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. The narrative shifts from 2000, when Vanessa gains admission to an elite New England prep school, to 2017, when she tries to come to terms with her experience, her role in it, how it's affecting her present, and the choices she faces to find resolution and move forward. For fans of Notes on a Scandal (Heller), Trust Exercise (Choi), and His Favorites (Walbert)." --Michelle Sampson, York Public Library, York, Me.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson (Crown, $32, 9780385348713). "Once again Larson's new book is nonfiction that is as hard to put down as the best fiction. The book recounts the early days of Churchill as prime minister when France fell to Germany and the British Empire stood alone against Hitler. For readers who like John M. Barry (The Great Influenza) and David King (Death in the City of Light)." --Celia Morse, Berkley Public Library, Berkley, Mich.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525658184). "Gyasi is a force of a writer and in her new novel, Gifty is a Ph.D. student of neuroscience fueled by the need to understand her brother's addiction and mother's depression. For fans of Imagine Me Gone (Haslet) and Chemistry (Wang)." --Kari Bingham-Gutierrez, Olathe Public Library, Olathe, Kan.

Book Review

Review: Aftershocks: A Memoir

Aftershocks: A Memoir by Nadia Owusu (Simon & Schuster, $26 hardcover, 320p., 9781982111229, January 12, 2021)

A stepmother's unwanted visit, a mother's unexpected phone call, a lover's departure--all happening in a single month--precipitated the breakdown that eventually engendered Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu's penetrating debut memoir, Aftershocks.

Owusu spent her youth navigating multiple continents, a half dozen countries, with inconsistent permutations of so-called family. Born to an Armenian American mother, Almas (who deserted Owusu at two), and Ghanaian father, Osei (whose United Nations career meant repeated relocations), Owusu learned early that "moving on was what we did." Osei remarried a Tanzanian woman, Anabel; Almas married twice more. Half-siblings arrived on both sides. With Almas estranged and Anabel difficult, Owusu's only stability was her unwavering bond with her father. When he died before Owusu's 14th birthday, with nowhere else to go, Owusu endured the rest of her childhood with the negligent, sometimes abusive Anabel.

At 18, Owusu arrived in New York City for college and stayed. A decade later, Owusu reluctantly meets Anabel for a fraught dinner, during which Anabel, in a moment of spite, insists Osei died of AIDS, not cancer. The disturbing allegation begins to mar his near-faultless legacy--that he could have cheated, could have lied--further unsettling Owusu's already fragile, medicated sense of self. Safe refuge seems to appear in a discarded blue chair she lugs home to her apartment. This one "felt familiar.... It felt almost like sitting on my father's lap." And there she remained--remembering, reexamining, reliving the many shocks that left her uncertain, untethered. After seven days, she finally rises, ready for "terraforming": to make her own solid, habitable world.

"I write toward truth, but my memory is prone to bouts of imagination," Owusu admits in her author's note. "Others remember events differently. I can only tell my version." In structuring her truth, the earthquake (purposefully, ironically) remains her leitmotif throughout--its shattering effects, its impending disturbances felt before and certainly long after. Her own "first earthquake" took place at age seven when the long-absent Almas arrived for a brief, uncomfortable reunion just as a catastrophic actual earthquake in her ancestral Armenia killed tens of thousands. Owusu sometimes works a little too hard to mold her experiences into her seismic theme of faults and shocks. Repetition, too, is occasionally problematic, stalling the already non-linear narrative. But beyond any imperfections, Owusu's raw vulnerability hauntingly, steadily beckons readers. By gathering "all the places I tried to belong to and all the people I long for," Owusu wills herself whole. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Debut memoirist Nadia Owusu examines the many ways her fractured family and their peripatetic relocations contributed to the aftershocks that led to her mental break at 28.

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