Shelf Awareness for Monday, December 13, 2021

Atlantic Monthly Press: Those Opulent Days: A Mystery by Jacquie Pham

Feiwel & Friends: The Flicker by HE Edgmon

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Pumpkin Princess and the Forever Night by Steven Banbury

St. Martin's Griffin: Murdle: The School of Mystery: 50 Seriously Sinister Logic Puzzles by GT Karber

Carolrhoda Lab (R): Here Goes Nothing by Emma K Ohland

Allida: Safiyyah's War by Hiba Noor Khan

Ace Books: Servant of Earth (The Shards of Magic) by Sarah Hawley

Quotation of the Day

'Anti-Free Expression Stridency from All Quarters'

"It's a complicated time, to say the least. There appears to be less and less commitment among a growing contingent of us to the bedrock value of freedom of expression. Increasingly those who might otherwise have felt it important to defend free speech at all costs have come to wonder if the so-called harm done by certain forms of speech are of greater moment and consequence than the so-called freedom to speak in ways that could inflict such harm. An evolving set of beliefs about the kinds of harms we should no longer tolerate is creating increasingly its own political culture. And on the other side of this ever-deepening divide, we find a deeply cynical defense of freedom of expression, but really as something more like a revolt against what I suspect many in this room would see as the arc of history bending finally toward justice.

"As writers, many of us are caught in the middle. Our creative imaginations are not discursive but organic. We are pulled where the muses and where the fertile blind spots in our lives lead us. And so the molting complexion of the public space, where language is increasingly politicized, even when it's not, where the argument over representation can feel increasingly like a matter of jurisprudence as opposed to creativity. In a public space being reshaped to these exigencies, it is not without consequence to us all as writers...

"The incentives of online discourse have increasingly led to the creation of groupings of opinion pitted one against the other, agglomerations of outrage, not just left-leaning or right-leaning, groupings superintended by slogans of belonging and credal statements honed like trademarks to the very locution. The result is a widespread and punitive stridency descending upon us from every quarter.

"Part of the challenge of being a writer today then is not to be cowed by fear, however real, of opprobrium, retaliation and group exclusion. The writer today must know that her best work is likely to come from a path that can only lead from her own sense of things, and not from the pressing parameters of our prevailing groupthink, attention paid to her own affinities, however heterodox they may be. But in the end, any defense of the freedom to write can only be as strong as those willing to heed it. Such strength, it's important to add, is not rewarded these days, a time when so many are telling us how and what and why we must write."

--Ayad Akhtar, author, playwright and PEN America president, in his introduction to the Writers on Self-Censorship panel, part of PEN America's town hall and annual general meeting last week.

PM Press: P Is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi, Illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi


Hockessin BookShelf in Delaware Changes Hands

Jen Blab, a former library staff member and bookstore manager, has purchased the new and used bookstore Hockessin BookShelf in Hockessin, Del. Blab bought the store from previous owner Rebecca Dowling, who is leaving Hockessin to start a new chapter of her life in California.

"The Hockessin BookShelf has become much more than a store," Blab said. "It is a community, connecting authors and readers, and readers of all ages and tastes with each other."

Most recently Blab worked at the Kennett Library in Kennett Square, Pa., and was acquisitions manager at Duke University's Medical Library. She was an English major at Auburn University and also managed a bookstore.

When Dowling announced in October that she would be closing the store to move to California, Blab was "devastated," she told Town Square Live. She remembered saying, "No, it can't close," and asked her husband if there was anything they could do about it. They talked, did some research into the store and the bookselling business, and made it official the day before Thanksgiving.

Dowling has been helping Blab learn the ropes, and Blab reported that customers have been so supportive. "There's just such an outpouring of support. They want to keep the store open."

Going forward, Blab doesn't plan to change very much about the 826-square-foot store and wants to continue Dowling's success.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Intermezzo by Sally Rooney

Ken Sanders Rare Books Moving to Salt Lake City Museum

Ken Sanders

Ken Sanders Books, an antiquarian bookshop selling rare and used books along with a smattering of new titles, will reopen next year in a space located in The Leonardo, a science-and-technology museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Sanders, who started running a pop-up location in The Leonardo in February, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the former pop-up area will be where he displays new books. That space is on the museum's ground floor and will include a children's book section, which Sanders has never had in his store before. The store's used books section will be found in the museum's basement, while the rare books will be in a sub-basement reading room the museum calls "The Kiva."

The new books space will blend in with The Leonardo's cafe and gift shop and will have ample space for everything from children's storytime sessions to author signings and book launches. Sanders noted that the museum has a state liquor license, which he called its "best-kept secret."

The Salt Lake City council approved a resolution allowing The Leonardo to sublet space to private businesses, so long as those businesses "fulfill a public purpose" and have a "direction connection to The Leonardo's mission and programming plan." Museum board member Lisa Davis told the Tribune that part of The Leonardo's mandate is to "make Liberty Square a very active, dynamic, community-oriented space."

In the pre-Covid years, the museum saw some 170,000 visitors per year, who will now be "walking right past" Sanders's bookstore. He had been looking for a new, affordable location since 2014, when a real estate development company purchased his building. In January 2020 he warned he would likely have to close given how high the rents in downtown Salt Lake City had become.

During the pandemic his former landlord offered him a six month-delay on rent, and he received around $45,000 in forgivable loans along with a $20,000 loan from the city. This summer he launched a GoFundMe campaign to help save his bookstore, which has risen more than $160,000 so far.

Sanders called the response to the campaign "a mandate, if you will, that they want me to keep doing this."

Tornadoes Destroy Amazon Warehouse in Ill., Six Dead

The deadly tornadoes that struck Friday night in the center of the country, most severely in Kentucky, destroyed an Amazon warehouse/delivery depot in Edwardsville, Ill., near St. Louis, causing at least six deaths.

As of yesterday, crews were still searching the rubble of the building, whose walls fell inward, causing the roof to collapse, when the EF-3 tornado hit at 8:35 p.m. Some 45 people made it out of the building, and local officials said they believe that all workers are accounted for. The facility opened in July 2020.

Bloomberg noted that the deaths and destruction highlighted employee concerns about Amazon's reinstitution of the cell phone ban it had relaxed during the pandemic.

Amazon employees at facilities near the destroyed warehouse told Bloomberg that they wanted to keep their phones while working to get information and updates about storms as well as be able to communicate with emergency responders or loved ones if they were trapped.

"After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe," one worker said. "If they institute the no cell phone policy, I am resigning."

Bloomberg noted, "The concerns about phone access highlight the deep distrust between executives who make rules focused on productivity and efficiency to gain a competitive advantage, and hourly front-line workers who often fear their safety is secondary to moving packages."

The destruction also highlighted Amazon's widespread use of contractors to do a range of work, particularly deliveries, in its warehouses. As the New York Times noted, "the more than 250,000 drivers" who are at the core of Amazon's deliveries "do not work directly for the company but instead are employed by over 3,000 contractor companies." As a result, only seven people at the site were full-time Amazon employees, one local official told the Times.

Amazon has said, the Times continued, that "the contracting arrangement helps support small businesses that can hire in their communities. But industry consultants and Amazon employees directly involved in the program have said it lets the company avoid liability for accidents and other risks, and limits labor organizing in a heavily unionized industry."

Obituary Note: Anne Rice

Anne Rice
(photo: Michael Lionstar)

Anne Rice, "whose lush, bestselling gothic tales, including Interview with the Vampire, reinvented the blood-drinking immortals as tragic antiheroes," died December 11, the Associated Press reported. She was 80. "As a writer, she taught me to defy genre boundaries and surrender to my obsessive passions," her son, author Christopher Rice, posted on her Facebook page and his Twitter page. "In her final hours, I sat beside her hospital bed in awe of her accomplishments and her courage."

Published in 1976, Interview with a Vampire was her first book with Knopf. "Anne was a fierce storyteller who wrote large, lived quietly, and imagined worlds on a grand scale," said Victoria Wilson, Rice's longtime--and only--editor at Knopf. "She summoned the feelings of an age long before we knew what they were. As a writer, she was decades ahead of her time. As a longtime friend, she loved and was beloved by everyone who worked with her at this house. The world will miss her and continue to know her again and again through the lives she imagined."

Rice's many books, including The Queen of the Dammed, Cry to Heaven, The Tale of the Body Thief, Servant of the Bones and Christ the Lord, have sold more than 150 million copies around the world. Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris, a novel co-written with Christoper Rice, will be published in February 2022.

Rice wrote more than 30 books over five decades, 13 of which were part of the Vampire Chronicles begun with her 1976 debut. The AP noted that "long before Twilight or True Blood, Rice introduced sumptuous romance, female sexuality and queerness--took Interview with the Vampire as an allegory for homosexuality--to the supernatural genre."

"I wrote novels about people who are shut out life for various reasons," Rice observed in her 2008 memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. "This became a great theme of my novels--how one suffers as an outcast, how one is shut out of various levels of meaning and, ultimately, out of human life itself."

Though Rice had initially struggled to get it published, Interview with the Vampire "was a massive hit, particularly in paperback," the AP wrote, adding, "She didn't immediately extend the story, following it up with a pair of historical novels and three erotic novels penned under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure. But in 1985, she published The Vampire Lestat, about the Interview with the Vampire character she would continually return to, up to 2018's Blood Communion: A Tale of Prince Lestat." She also used the pen name Anne Rampling for Exit to Eden (1985) and Belinda (1986). Her series Lives of the Mayfair Witches began in 1990 with The Witching Hour.

Horror author Ramsey Campbell told the Guardian that Rice wrote "in the great tradition of the gothic, both thematically and in her prose.... I would argue it's a specifically female lineage that stretches from the classical gothics but in particular from Mary Shelley, in its humanization of the monster and the way it accords him a thoroughly literate voice."

Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes, praised how Rice had transformed the genre: "I have had a fascination with vampires since early childhood, and when I found Rice's work, I absolutely loved how she took that genre and created such a vivid world and characters within it and, more importantly, made them feel so contemporary and relevant."


Happy 50th Birthday, Grass Roots Books & Music!

Congratulations to Grass Roots Books & Music, Corvallis, Ore., which is marking its 50th anniversary in 2021, though a "celebration will be held at the appropriate time, possibly next year" due to pandemic concerns, the Gazette Times reported.

"Question: What is stronger, Jack Wolcott's faith in Corvallis or the community's faith in Wolcott and his iconic creation, Grass Roots Books & Music? Tough call. Both belief systems have withstood the test of time, in this case 50 years," the Gazette Times wrote.

"We wanted to be sure to acknowledge people's support and appropriately thank them," said Wolcott, who launched Grass Roots Books & Things on Southwest Second Street a half-century ago with Michael Nesson and one staff member. Nesson left after a year and Wolcott married Sandy Smith, who became both a life partner and a business partner. 

"I didn't think I would ever walk into a bookstore like this and meet a man like this who somehow seemed to like me," Smith said. "It's incredible to have had a bookstore life."

Smith cited the important contributions of longtime employee Tiffany Harlan, who "morphed into the czarina of the web portal" when Covid-19 increased the importance of the bookshop's online book sales, the Gazette Times noted. The online portal/distribution system accounts for 25% of Grass Roots' sales.

"She's the one doing the ordering," Smith said. "We had huge amounts of online orders, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to her. She has been our face for the past few years." The gratitude Wolcott and Smith feel toward Harlan also extends to the entire staff. "We're hugely grateful for a long line of employees who have worked for us," Smith added.

"Over the years we've always tried to fill the needs of the community as we learned them," Wolcott said. "We work really hard to provide a personal experience and service. What do you think and what do you want? That's the biggest difference between independent bookstores and nationals.... 

"I want each person who comes into the store to find their book, and I want to help them find their book. I can help so many people find their books. That is my real pleasure. I have literally spent 50 years surrounded by books and believing in the people who are drawn to them. That's the beauty and spirit of Grass Roots."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Dana Canedy on Good Morning America

Good Morning America: Dana Canedy, author of A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor (Crown, $17, 9780593442937), the basis for the film directed by Denzel Washington and starring Michael B. Jordan that will open later this month. (Canedy is also publisher of the Simon & Schuster imprint at S&S.)

Also on GMA: Diane Macedo, author of The Sleep Fix: Practical, Proven, and Surprising Solutions for Insomnia, Snoring, Shift Work, and More (Morrow, $27.99, 9780063040021).

Kelly Clarkson Show: Andy Cohen, author of Glitter Every Day: 365 Quotes from Women I Love (Holt, $24, 9781250832399).

Live with Kelly and Ryan: Michael Symon, author of Fix It with Food: Every Meal Easy: Simple and Delicious Recipes for Anyone with Autoimmune Issues and Inflammation (Clarkson Potter, $32.50, 9780593233108).

Late Late Show with James Corden: Katie Couric, author of Going There (Little, Brown, $30, 9780316535861).

Good Morning America: Kirthana Ramisetti, author of Dava Shastri's Last Day (Grand Central, $28, 9781538703861).

Live with Kelly and Ryan: Melba Wilson, author of Melba's American Comfort: 100 Recipes from My Heart to Your Kitchen (Atria, $24, 9781476795300).

Late Night with Seth Meyers: David Baddiel, author of Jews Don't Count (TLS Books, $12.99, 9780008490751).

Tonight Show: Matthew McConaughey, author of Greenlights: Your Journal, Your Journey (Clarkson Potter, $20, 9780593235478).

Late Late Show with James Corden: Dwyane Wade, author of Dwyane (Morrow, $35, 9780062968357).

On Stage: The Little Prince

Following engagements in Paris, Sydney, and Dubai, The Little Prince, a stage adaptation of the 1942 classic by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, will begin previews March 4, 2022, at the Broadway Theatre in New York, prior to an official opening March 17, Playbill reported. 

Directed and choreographed by Anne Tournié, The Little Prince has a libretto adapted by co-director Chris Mouron and original music by Terry Truck. The production "promises spectacle, dance, aerial acrobatics, and video mapping technology," Playbill noted.

"We are thrilled for our company to continue The Little Prince's world journey to the bright lights of Broadway and New York," said Tournié said. "On his journey, the Little Prince shares a message of humanity with the many different people and cultures he encounters. We are humbled to bring his story of friendship, loneliness, love, and caring for others and our planet back to the melting pot where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry first created this beloved tale."

Books & Authors

Awards: Ruth Rendell Winner

Cecilia Knapp, playwright, novelist and the Young People's Laureate for London, won the Ruth Rendell Award for "outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the U.K. over the last year," the Bookseller reported. The prize was launched in 2016 by the National Literacy Trust and Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society in memory of Rendell. Knapp was praised for her "work delivering four residencies as part of the Young People's Laureate for London program run by Spread the Word. 

National Literary Trust CEO Jonathan Douglas said Knapp "has already amassed a roll call of achievements that would leave most of us reeling. The judges were all in awe of her passion and commitment to bring poetry to young people, who might not have experienced it before. Cecilia has also been developing and delivering workshops, campaigning on the airwaves and supporting teachers with resources, whilst continuing to write stand-out and inspiring poetry and plays. She's been tireless in encouraging young people to discover writers and poetry and to use writing and reading to express themselves creatively."

Barbara Hayes, deputy chief executive of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, added: "Cecilia is a true inspiration to young girls and boys. She works hard to open up the world of reading and writing, and strives to make young people feel that they too can write; their stories are worth telling; and can have a place in the world."

Noting that news of the award came as "a total and gorgeous shock," Knapp said: "I care deeply about making literature accessible to young people, and making sure they feel entitled to the world of stories and poetry as something they are entitled to; a space they can occupy however and whenever they want, on their own terms. It was a free workshop that sparked my love of literature back when I was younger. It made me see that reading and writing doesn't have to feel scary and impenetrable, that it doesn't have to be a test, that our own voices and stories are just as valid as whatever has gone before.

"So I always knew I wanted to pay that forward and help more young people develop a love of reading and writing, as it had such a transformative experience on my life. It's enough of a prize to get to hang out with brilliant young people and see them grow through the sharing of stories, but this prize is an added honor, it feels just wonderful that it recognizes what I set out to do."

Book Review

Review: The Invention of Power: Popes, Kings, and the Birth of the West

The Invention of Power: Popes, Kings, and the Birth of the West by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (PublicAffairs, $30 hardcover, 352p., 9781541768758, January 18, 2022)

It's doubtful that many people outside the field of medieval scholarship have even a passing acquaintance with the 12th-century agreement known as the Concordat of Worms. But readers of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's thought-provoking and extensively researched The Invention of Power: Popes, Kings, and the Birth of the West will come away from it possessing not only a familiarity with that document and its historical context but also an appreciation of what, he argues, has been its profound influence on the politics and economic development of Western civilization.

As Bueno de Mesquita (The Spoils of War) explains, the agreement signed at Worms in 1122 by Holy Roman Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II, along with two similar predecessor pacts from England and France in 1107, dealt on their face only with the selection of bishops and the allocation of resources in vacant dioceses. In fact, their reach was much more profound, as they established the "strategic triggers and competitive logic" for future contests between Europe's temporal and religious leaders. Those rules, he argues, tilted the playing field in favor of the former and laid the foundation for a "Western exceptionalism" ultimately rooted in regulated economic competition and accountable representative government, rather than in any claims of "superior culture, superior religious beliefs, or superior people," making Western Europe "so much richer and freer than most of the rest of the world."

Though Bueno de Mesquita, who teaches politics at New York University and concedes he is not a historian, doesn't entirely eschew traditional narrative, he draws more heavily on techniques rooted in game theory and quantitative analysis to make his central points and marshals an impressive body of evidence to support his thesis. Thus, his book features a substantial collection of charts and graphs, as he applies statistical methods to indicia of economic performance that include data like the location of European bishoprics in relation to trade routes and comparisons of per capita income in Western Europe relative to other regions of the world.

Bueno de Mesquita, who suggests that "the consequences of the logic put into motion at Worms is still at work in today's Europe," recognizes that much of the data he cites points to correlation rather than causation, and is suitably humble when he expresses the hope that his audience will be "persuaded, or at least intrigued," by his claims. But even those inclined to refute his argument will have to concede that he's made an intellectually stimulating case for the profound and enduring influence of a heretofore obscure series of historical events from 10 centuries ago. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita advances some provocative claims for the impact of the Concordat of Worms on the development of the West.

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